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Crisis for Britain’s democracy: Theresa May bypasses UK Parliament on a question of war and peace in Syria

Theresa May willing to break convention by taking Britain to war against Syria and possibly Russia without consulting Parliament

Nothing illustrates better the total collapse not just of constitutional safeguards but of any semblance of critical thinking in the British news media than the fact that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s extraordinary decision to ignore the opinions of the British Parliament on a question of war or peace in Syria is receiving barely any criticism in the media.

On the contrary shrill voices in the media are egging her on to go to war without consulting Parliament.

In 2013 in connection with an earlier proposal to attack Syria (which was rejected by the British Parliament) the British government confirmed that a convention had been established that Parliament would always be consulted before any decision was made to commit the British armed forces to military action in a situation where there was no pressing emergency and where Britain itself was not under attack.

This convention was established following the debacles of the British armed interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all of which were launched on what turned out to be false premises, and all of which ended in failure.

This risks of an attack on Syria are however many times greater than they were in those earlier wars.

Not only is the Syrian air defence system far more sophisticated than any the British military has confronted previously, but vigorously opposing the proposed armed attack on Syria – and with powerful armed forces already stationed in Syria – is Russia, a nuclear superpower which has threatened to take counter-action if an attack takes place.

Already there are fears – in my opinion misplaced but hardly in the circumstances unwarranted – that an attack on Syria could escalate out of control, and might even lead to World War III.

The need to consult Parliament in such a situation before taking any action which might have such catastrophic consequences ought to be obvious, and yet it seems that that is precisely what Theresa May and her government are determined not to do.

Moreover their reasons for not doing it are not because they are sure of their support in Parliament so that they feel they can take its support for granted.

It is because on the contrary they worry that they do NOT have the support of Parliament, and might lose a vote on an attack on Syria if it took place.

Moreover this apparent lack of support for war in Parliament is matched – possibly even more strongly – in the country at large.

A YouGov poll of The Times of London shows that only 22% of Britons support a strike on Syria, 43% are opposed and 34% are unsure.

That the fact the British government fears losing a vote there on a matter of war or peace on an issue where the majority or at least a plurality of the British public opposes it is not a good reason for cutting out Parliament should be obvious.

On the contrary, precisely because Parliament and the country are divided on what is an issue of war or peace, in any state which calls itself a democracy and where Parliament is supposed to be sovereign, it becomes even more essential to consult it.

To those who say that consulting Parliament is merely a convention, I would reply that because the British constitution is largely unwritten it consists mostly of conventions so that the price of ignoring them is to put the entire viability of the whole British constitutional structure in question, with consequences that have always been understood to be dire.

Frankly, that Theresa May is seriously proposing to take Britain to war in Syria and risk an armed clash with Russia there without consulting Parliament is nothing short of incredible.

That she is coming under so little criticism in the media for doing so is not just incredible, it is beyond alarming and is frankly beyond belief.

It points to the lamentable truth that the entire media in Britain has been captured by the war lobby, who will not let mere trifles like international law, British constitutional law, democracy, the sovereignty of Parliament, or the wishes of the British people, stand in the way of the war they crave for but which most British people don’t want.

All the indications are that the British people disagree with them on this as on so much else – already there is a big protest being organised on Monday – and if Theresa May and her government continue on their present course I expect those protests to grow.

Having said this, given how quickly fundamental constitutional and legal safeguards in Britain seem to be unravelling, I am starting to wonder for how much longer it will be possible to protest at all.

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