London: Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, is under pressure to recall parliament, which has an annual recess until September 1, amid growing unrest at the humanitarian crisis engulfing Iraq.
With more reports of minority Christians and Yazidis being slaughtered by Islamic State extremists in the north of the country, Tory and Labour figures have insisted the House of Commons (the UK’s lower, elected house) needs to debate possible military action.
The former head of the army, Lord Dannatt, told Radio 4’s current affairs Today programme yesterday that he backed a recall, insisting Britain was “watching in horror” as atrocities were committed. “In the short time we have a real emergency. There needs to be military support very quickly.
“There need to be continuing air strikes well targeted, and we may need to put some people on the ground to direct that quite accurately. It is difficult for us to say that this is not our problem. We have to look at ourselves and say, ‘do we do nothing in the face of a possible genocide?’”
Conor Burns, the Tory MP for Bournemouth South, south-west England, said the government’s response so far, of ruling out military intervention and airdropping supplies, was not strong enough. “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. I think we should be answering positively requests from the Kurds to arm them. I think we should be looking at asylum.”
Burns said he did not know whether the House of Commons would support military action, but it was worth trying - adding that some Conservative colleagues who opposed intervention in Syria last August took a different position this time. “Some of this was created by us in the first place, and I do not think it is right just to say we cannot do this or public opinion doesn’t support it.
“I think the Syria thing and this are very different. If parliament decides we do not want to have anything to do with that, then let them say so.”
In a letter to Cameron, the Tory MPs Nick de Bois and David Burrowes joined the requests for a recall of Parliament. They said the persecution in Iraq imposed “a moral obligation and a duty to our constituents to reconvene so that the escalating crisis can be properly debated. 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.” An emergency session would also allow discussion of developments in Gaza, they said.
A government source indicated there were no plans for the prime minister to cut short his family break in Portugal, from which he is due back later this week.
“Our focus is very much on the humanitarian side. It’s about meeting a massive need to get help though and that’s what we are doing,” the source said.
Cameron is “being kept fully informed and is in close contact with the foreign secretary and the defence secretary”.
“He had talks with President Obama over the weekend and is constantly updated on the situation on the ground.”
Philip Hammond, the UK’s foreign secretary (minister for foreign affairs) is chairing a further meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee to discuss the crisis in Iraq at 11am, a spokes person for the government said.
Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South, north-east of London, and former chair of the foreign affairs select committee, has also demanded a recall of parliament so that military action can be authorised to aid minorities under threat. “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,” he wrote in an article for the British political and cultural magazine, New Statesman.