Aside from the need to act swiftly and with an element of surprise when striking Syria’s chemical weapons capability, it is still fair to say that Number 10’s preferred option was not to have a vote before the strikes took place at the weekend. David Cameron’s experience in 2013 of failing to get parliamentary consent for action has left institutional bruising which means everyone is now cautious of asking MPs for approval, despite the fact that the Commons has in fact consented to air strikes both in Syria and Iraq since that failed vote. Parliamentary recess did make it much more convenient to avoid such a vote, and there was certainly no appetite for the government to push for one retrospectively.
But what has happened in the days since Parliament returned is that MPs have basically approved the action, and given Theresa May enough authority to be able to authorise further limited action without a vote, too. Though many complained in the debates on Monday and Tuesday about the Prime Minister’s failure to come to Parliament first, the two votes that did take place saw the government command strong majorities.
As I said yesterday, it may well be helpful for the government to back a formal examination of the balance of powers between legislature and executive when it comes to military action, if only to ensure that the current situation, whereby military action is the preserve of the Prime Minister, is better articulated and therefore less of a controversial point for opponents of intervention to take up. But the way the votes went means that the whips can now relax: they may not have to gather numbers for another vote any time soon.