Three years since Chilcot: where's the War Powers Act?

July 7, 2019

 

UK: The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War, announced in June 2009, released its report three years ago today. 

 

On the night of the invasion of the Iraqi capital news channels had blocked out airtime and pointed night-vision cameras at the Baghdad skyline in order to properly capture the obliteration from a safe, sterile distance.

A sense of foreboding naturally followed the events about what forces the war would unleash. Not since the invasion of Grenada, where their Queen was the titular head of state, had the British looked so craven in the face of American aggression.

 

Going against his own population - over a million of whom had marched against the war - the Foreign Secretary's advice and that of the UN; Blair's messiah complex - putative before Kosovo but now fully formed - found new and horrific expression at would be the height of his powers. He had been hailed as a hero in Kosovo, he thought; why not again in Iraq?

 

Apart from the 179 British soldiers killed and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, the suicide of Dr David Kelly and the subsequent Hutton report damaged the BBC and made the possibility of criticising the Government during a time of war even more remote. The media, reliably deferential in times of war by framing events from the point of view of the aggressors - the so-called "Coalition of the willing" - and hamstrung by the Official Secrets Act were further castrated by the conclusions of Hutton which, in the words of Andrew Gilligan, sought to "hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, Government dossiers."

 

No War Powers Act has been introduced in the last three years despite the untrammeled nature of the power on display during the Blair years and since.  The British are the inheritors of a society perennially blighted by London centralism. The executive conceive of state authority through instruments such as the royal prerogative; a feudal era concept.

 

Parliament's role in defeating the move to war in Syria was an outlier - no Prime Minister had been defeated on a question of war and peace since 1782 - and the executive will seek to avoid the risk of another such outcome. The executive is in any case busy redrafting large sections of the uncodified constitution of the UK in the wake of Brexit and, given the lack of consultation across Parliament during the Brexit negotiations we already have a sense of how consultative they intend to be.

 

The lives of the people of Iraq have been blighted by this mad, myopic unitary state and its ancient privileges, aggression, secrecy and indolence. With Brexit, the British will get constitutional reform whether they like it or not; isn't it time to divest the executive of that awesome power?

 

The best time was three years ago; the second-best time would be now.

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