What is the extent of British involvement in Iraq? Philip Hammond today said it was simply to provide humanitarian assistance, but the suggestion that ministers could send Tornado jets to help with the relief operation has confused some. Even though sources have told the BBC that the jets will not be involved in air strikes, Jack Straw has immediately read the report as a sign that the UK could be heading towards ‘more active intervention’. He told ITV:
‘That’s a start. If you’re going to have more active intervention with aeroplanes striking at ISIS columns or drones, you need a lot of intelligence and the next stage is to send Tornados. I’m actually pleased to hear that because Tornados are not machines that can deliver humanitarian assistance.’
What Straw is highlighting here is that it isn’t entirely clear what the extent of UK involvement in the action in Iraq could be. This is one reason why a recall of Parliament could be necessary, so that MPs can scrutinise the true extent of the involvement.
Nick de Bois and David Burrowes set out another reason in their letter to the Prime Minister calling for a recall of Parliament. They argue in their letter, which you can read in full here, that the crisis should be ‘properly debated with a view to the government being able to seek guidance from and support of the House for policies aimed at ending the killing’. They add that ‘it is vital that the House of Commons debate an appropriate response to this emergency’ and that the ‘voice of Parliament should be heard’ on the situation in Gaza.
Number 10 and Hammond argue that the threshold for recall, which is committing any British troops into any kind of combat role, has not been crossed. But there seems to be increasing confusion about that, which will only increase the pressure for a recall.
Number 10 has now explained a little more the role that Tornado jets will play in Iraq, with a spokesperson saying:
‘We continue to work with international partners on options for doing this, including how we can develop a better picture of the number of peoples on the mountain and their exact locations. As part of that work, we have decided to pre-position a small number of Tornados in the region so that they could, if required, use their excellent surveillance capability to gather better situational awareness to help with humanitarian effort. This would be similar to the role the Tornado played in the UK earlier this year, gathering information on the areas affected by the severe floods.’
Today’s COBR meeting, chaired by Philip Hammond, focused on three objectives, according to Downing Street:
- ‘Alleviating the humanitarian suffering of those Iraqis targeted by ISIL terrorists;
- ‘Promoting an inclusive, sovereign and democratic Iraq that can push back on ISIL advances and restore stability and security across the country;
- Working with the international community to tackle the broader threat that ISIL poses to the region and other countries around the world.’