On 20 December 2017, the Prime Minister made a statement in response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report in to the UK drone strike that killed British-citizen Reyaad Khan in Syria in August 2015. Following significant delays to the publication of the ISC’s report, it is disappointing that is has taken some eight months for the Prime Minister to respond.
The Prime Minister’s statement asserts that Khan posed a ‘direct and imminent threat’ to the UK and that the strike was a necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defence of the UK. The ISC’s April 2017 report agreed that Khan posed a ‘very serious threat to the UK’. However, it went on to state that ‘while we believe that the threat posed by Khan was very serious, we are unable to assess the process by which Ministers determined that it equated to an ‘armed attack’ by a State’.
The Prime Minister has now stated that Khan was instructing ‘multiple operatives around the world to orchestrate attacks’ and was providing ‘instructions for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices and locations of possible targets’. Accordingly, it was assessed that Khan’s ‘intent to murder British citizens was clear’.
However, today’s statement provides no further information on the specific details regarding how and when such intention would have become ‘a murderous reality’ without taking the decision to use lethal force against Khan. Without such details, the Government’s interpretation of the ‘imminent threat’ posed by Khan remains at best opaque and raises the prospect of additional strikes outside of current military operations and without prior Parliamentary approval.
The Prime Minister’s statement makes no reference to the fact that the Committee had previously expressed ‘profound disappointment’ that it was denied access to ‘central’, ‘key’ and ‘clearly relevant’ documents related to the decision-making process which authorised the strike. Nor does it suggest any review of Parliamentary oversight has been undertaken. Indeed, yesterday’s statement appears to flatly deny the request by ISC Chair, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC, that ‘the Government should open up the ministerial decision making process to scrutiny on matters of such seriousness’.
It has been eight months since the ISC requested that the Prime Minister update the House on ‘the impact which the use of lethal force in this instance has had on the threat to the UK, and whether the objectives were successfully achieved’. The closest that yesterday’s statement comes to providing such an update is to state that ‘sadly this year has shown that the threat from terrorism cannot always be contained’ and asserts that ‘the Government will continue to do what is necessary to keep citizens safe’.
It remains vitally important for the UK to take all necessary measures to thwart terrorist attacks against the UK. Given the seriousness of authorising the use of lethal force, it is equally important that the decision-making process be appropriately transparent to Parliament and the public. The APPG on Drones will be continuing to press the Government to address the shortcomings in oversight and accountability for UK drone strikes in the next Parliamentary term and to work with the Government to ensure that our efforts to address terrorism are not only effective but that they are accountable to the British public and Parliament and in accordance with the rule of law.