As Theresa May meets with her Cabinet to discuss a possible response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, it’s widely expected that any action she does take will be actioned without a vote in Parliament. The Prime Minister does not need to have approval through a Commons vote but recent precedent means that a lot of MPs think that she should.
In that vein, today Jeremy Corbyn warned that MPs must be consulted on any UK military action. This is unsurprising but May’s bigger problem is that a sizeable portion of the Tory party is also sceptical of the merits of intervention. Were the decision to go to Parliament, May would almost certainly have to rely on Labour rebels’ votes for her majority in this instance.
As I say in the Guardian, a quick browse of the papers, news channels and social media this week would suggest that the Tories are urging an indecisive prime minister to transform into an iron lady and take drastic action. Johnny Mercer – Tory MP and former soldier – used a Telegraph article to call on the prime minister to put an end to ‘pious politics and endless self-flagellating’ and bypass a parliamentary vote, Tom Tugendhat – the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee – has said that ‘standing aside while people are gassed or sharing the murderer’s lies doesn’t make us safer’. What’s more, even May’s nemesis George Osborne seems to be on side – using a leader in the Standard to argue that there is no need for a Commons vote before action in Syria.
However despite the noise, there are a sizeable number of Tories who are much more hesitant – they are still stung by the events surrounding Libya and Iraq and remain cautious over the benefits of intervention.This group argue: if there’s no grand plan for regime change, why fire just to forget? More than one minister can be found who’ll warn that the approach of Mercer and Tugendhat would lead to a third world war. Another member of government simply observes that Mercer ‘has a book out’.
A Times/YouGov poll today on the public’s appetite for military intervention serves as a stark warning of problems ahead – just 22pc of the public backs airstrikes on Syria while another 34pc ‘don’t know’. If May goes ahead with strikes, she will need all the help she can get from her party in winning the ‘don’t knows’ round to her cause. The problem is that whatever the prime minister does, she will alienate some of the colleagues she must depend on.