Three days after the new western mission in Iraq began, support for a recall of parliament is growing among MPs. Conservative Conor Burns has emailed the Speaker requesting a recall and has also written to Michael Gove (now Chief Whip) criticising Britain’s limited response to the humanitarian crisis.
“I feel very strongly that the government’s response is not hard enough or strong enough,” he said. “These people are being beheaded by people from IS, and our only response is to drop some food or water on them. I think the US and UK should be involved in air strikes. I am not by any means advocating a ground war but I think we should put our special forces in there.”
Other Tories demanding a recall include Glyn Davies (“I suggested recall weeks ago. [There is a] much stronger case for it than the motion we MPs returned for last summer”), Andrew Rosindell (“Britain cannot stand by and watch brutal terror being carried out against Christians in Iraq”), Nick de Bois and David Burrowes. The latter pair write in a letter to David Cameron:
“What we are witnessing in Iraq is truly shocking and requires a co-ordinated international response. The horrific persecution of minority groups in the region impose both a moral obligation and a duty to our constituents to reconvene so that the escalating crisis can 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. It is vital that the House of Commons debate an appropriate response to this emergency.
“Whilst the government is rightly engaged in a massive humanitarian effort we believe that the lack of a co-ordinated international response and the unilateral military intervention of the US demand the urgent attention of parliamentarians at this time.”
On the Labour side, Tom Watson, Andrew Gwynne, Graham Allen and Mike Gapes (writing on The Staggers), the former chair of the foreign affairs select committee, have also made the case for a recall. Gapes wrote: “The Prime Minister may feel unable to act now following his defeat and mishandling of the Syria debate last August. He should get over it and urgently recall Parliament. I hope we can then, with opposition support, achieve a massive vote for UK military intervention alongside our US and NATO partners to defend and protect our democratic and secular Kurdish friends and to stop the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”
Downing Street has responded by arguing that there is no need for a recall on the grounds that “our focus is humanitarian support” and that military action is currently not planned. But while this may be true, what MPs are demanding is a chance to debate whether that is the right stance for the government to take, not merely to approve it. Some of those calling for a recall, such as Conor Burns and Mike Gapes, support UK military action, but others, such as Tom Watson and Nick de Bois, currently do not.
With the government not ruling out UK air strikes if the situation deteriorates, and three weeks to go before the end of the recess, there is merit in parliament returning to debate the circumstances (if any) in which military intervention would be appropriate. One of the reasons why MPs rebelled over Syria was the government’s failure to consult them earlier in the process. If Cameron does eventually decide to take military action, he will have more chance of winning approval if parliament is recalled now.