The government has won the first of two expected retrospective votes on Theresa May decision to join French and American allies in targeted military strikes in Syria, she did so without seeking Parliamentary approval. MPs debated Alison McGoverns emergency debate late into the evening – with the SNP calling a vote on the motion that the House has ‘considered the current situation in Syria and the UK government approach’. Labour – minus Dennis Skinner – abstained and the government won at 314 ayes to 26 noes
It now looks as though a more testing vote looms. Jeremy Corbyn has won approval for an emergency debate on a motion reaffirming the convention that Parliament should have to approve military interventions. The government now faces a decision on whether to abstain from any vote, support the motion or vote against. Any vote is non-binding – but a defeat would be symbolically damaging to May’s authority. Conservative MPs have been placed on a three-line whip and Downing Street have been reaching out to Labour moderates in recent days to make their case for action in Syria.
Although Theresa May’s statement in Parliament was broadly well received on Monday, Labour moderates are united with Corbynistas in their criticism of the lack of Parliamentary approval – whether or not they agreed with the end result. There are also some Conservative MPs – such as Ken Clarke – who voiced concern over this.
However, May’s fate really depends on how the exact motion is phrased. On Parliamentary scrutiny and the need for Parliamentary approval in future, May could well be in trouble – even some of her own MPs will not wish to write a blank cheque. But there is another option open to No 10. The government still supports the idea of Parliament approving military intervention, they argue that an exception was made in this instance on humanitarian grounds and owing to time constraints. It follows that depending on the wording, they could actually support it. That way May could save face and re-affirm her support for Parliament’s important role. But if the language is too strong, this won’t be possible as the Prime Minister will not wish to tie her hands.