18 March 2003 Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq

18 March 2003 Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq

The Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq was given by the elected members of the British House of Commons to Tony Blair's government on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003.

Constitutional background

There is no constitutional requirement for the United Kingdom government to seek any explicit form of Parliamentary approval before committing UK forces to military action. The Royal Prerogative permits the government to give the order to begin action.

However the political controversy over whether to participate in military action, which covered the legal legitimacy as well as Foreign policy questions, had been under discussion for many years. As early as 1999, the anti-war MP Tam Dalyell had proposed a Ten Minute Rule Bill called Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill which would "require the prior approval, by a simple majority of the House of Commons, of military action by United Kingdom forces against Iraq." Dalyell was given leave to bring in his Bill but did not progress it further. [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmhansrd/vo990126/debtext/90126-06.htm#90126-06_head1]

Debates in 2003

The deployments of UK forces to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, along with forces of the United States, were a clear preliminary to military action. A succession of debates were held on UK policy on Iraq. Finally, on March 17, President Bush gave an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to give up power within 48 hours or face military conflict. Previous votes had endorsed government policy of confronting Iraq through the United Nations.

Debate of 18 March

The debate, which broadly reiterated the case for the existence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction without fully exploring the reason that the invasion was imminent, and misrepresenting the reason for the lack of a second UN resolution to follow on from UN resolution 1441 which did not authorize military action, lasted from midday to 10pm, at which time the two Parliamentary votes were held.

Both major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, were committed to carrying the votes, with only the third party, the Liberal Democrats, opposed. Any MP who was a member of these first two parties was compelled to rebel if they wished to vote against the invasion of Iraq. According to tradition, a front bench member of a party, either the government or the loyal opposition, must resign before they can vote against their party. The expected mass of resignations from among some of the ranks of these parties did not materialize beyond the resignation of Robin Cook.

As is the custom, a motion was proposed on the floor of the House, and the opposition to the motion was allowed to propose an amendment to its wording. The first vote decided whether the amendment should be made, while the second actually passes the motion. Had the government lost either of these votes, it would not have been granted Parliamentary authority for the war.

While the war could have proceeded on technically legal grounds so long as the armed forces did not rebel against their orders, many front bench members of the government were prepared to resign had the vote been lost. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,943823,00.html]

The main motion, which was passed at 10pm by 412 to 149 votes [http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2003-03-18&number=118&display=allpossible] , read:

This House notes its decisions of 25th November 2002 and 26th February 2003 to endorse UN Security Council Resolution 1441; recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security; notes that in the 130 days since Resolution 1441 was adopted Iraq has not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors, and has rejected the final opportunity to comply and is in further material breach of its obligations under successive mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions; regrets that despite sustained diplomatic effort by Her Majesty's Government it has not proved possible to secure a second Resolution in the UN because one Permanent Member of the Security Council made plain in public its intention to use its veto whatever the circumstances; notes the opinion of the Attorney General that, Iraq having failed to comply and Iraq being at the time of Resolution 1441 and continuing to be in material breach, the authority to use force under Resolution 678 has revived and so continues today; believes that the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it, and therefore supports the decision of Her Majesty's Government that the United Kingdom should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; offers wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces now on duty in the Middle East; in the event of military operations requires that, on an urgent basis, the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of UN sanctions, an international reconstruction programme, and the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq, leading to a representative government which upholds human rights and the rule of law for all Iraqis; and also welcomes the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and for the wider Middle East region, and endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine.

The amendment to this motion, which was rejected earlier at 9:15pm by 396 to 217 votes [http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2003-03-18&number=117&display=allpossible] , substituted the bold words for:

This House... believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific United Nations authorisation; but, in the event that hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides...

The military campaign against Iraq began one day later.

External links

* [http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2003-03-18.760.0 Hansard report of the debate on TheyWorkForYou.com]
* [http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/policy.php?id=219 Publicwhip's list of Iraq war votes in Parliament]

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