APPG on Drones – Autumn Update

Following our last update in June 2017, where we outlined the significant developments for the UK’s approach to armed drones over the previous parliament, the UK Government has published its Joint Doctrine on Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Published on the 12th September 2017, it provides an unparalleled opportunity for APPG members to examine and scrutinise the UK’s doctrine on the use of armed drones. We will comprehensively review the JDP and identify areas that require further clarification to ensure that the Government remains accountable and transparent in their approach to armed drones.

The APPG will continue to push for clarity on the legal framework and application both within and outside armed conflict. Disappointingly, although APPG Vice-Chair Lucy Powell MP tabled a parliamentary question in February 2017 to clarify that the JDP would address the legal framework for the use of armed drones both within and outside armed conflict, the JDP makes no distinction between the two. If this is the government’s unchanged position, it remains based on a ‘misunderstanding of the legal frameworks that apply’ and the Government continues to ‘duck central questions’ with regards to the applicability of the legal frameworks- most notably the application of international human rights law in these theatres of deployment. We encourage the JCHR to proceed with its request that the Attorney General appear before it to further explain the Government’s legal position in more detail.

Should the Attorney General be able to clarify this position, it will not only strengthen our adherence to the correct standards and interpretation of applicable legal principles, but has the potential to influence the Attorney Generals of other “Five Eyes” nations. This is particularly important, given the expanded definition of “imminence” in the Attorney General’s speech of January 2017. Not only will this have bearing on our work in armed drones but also influence joint operations, intelligence sharing and rules of engagement.

On the 12th July the APPG held its AGM and elected Clive Lewis MP  as Chair and Lucy Powell MP as Vice-Chair. Clive Lewis MP proposed Baroness Stern as Co-Chair, and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven as Vice-Chairs. Going forward into the new Parliamentary year, the APPG’s priorities will include:

  1. Seeking clarification from the Government on a number of issues that remain un-addressed in the recently released JDP and ensuring adequate Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of this policy
  2. Following up the ISC’s report UK Lethal Drone Strikesin Syria to consider how the gaps in oversight for the UK’s targeted killing policy can be addressed
  3. Continuing to undertake extensive scrutiny of, and parliamentary engagement with, the UK approach to armed drones
  4. Continuing to press for clarity on the UK’s approach to civilian casualty investigation, monitoring and transparency
  5. In autumn, holding two separate events on imminence/legal standards and accountability/ transparency run in conjunction with the APPG on the Rule of Law and the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition

Separately, the APPG on Drones continues to develop its own inquiry into ‘The Use of Armed Drones: Working with Partners’. The purpose of this inquiry is to analyse the emerging technologies of armed drones, with a particular focus on the ways in which the UK works with allies when using them. The Inquiry Report will make recommendations to ensure an appropriate level of transparency and accountability for these operations in Parliament.

Three oral evidence sessions were held in the previous Parliament, with the last hearing from Dr Larry Lewis, author of Obama’s PPG, and Chris Woods. All evidence session transcripts are available on the Inquiry page of this website.

Over the next few months, the Inquiry will:

  1. Hold two additional evidence sessions for the APPG Inquiry in October:
  • Evidence Session Four  [This meeting has been postponed until further notice]
    To provide an insight in the UK’s strategy and recently published doctrine outlining the use of drones by the Ministry of Defence.  
  • Evidence Session Five – 31st October 2017 17.00
    To assess the impact and scope for new technologies in military drone use and to support the government to produce guidance and policy with regards to the regulation and use of such technologies taking into account current use, law and ethics.
    Confirmed Speakers – Professor Stuart Russell and Dr Tom Simpson
  1. Visit by Inquiry Members to Pakistan in November to hear directly from victims of the US drone programme and to meet with Pakistani Parliamentarians.
  2. Publish the report of the APPG Inquiry in December/January with planned follow up with debates in Parliament and related media and dissemination events.

On a practical note, we welcome new staff members for the APPG secretariat and extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to Jack Stewart and Anna Thomas. Harriet Hoffler has now taken over as Coordinator, and George Woodhams has taken over as researcher. Please don’t hesitate to contact Harriet or George for more information about the work that the APPG does, press and media queries, or general information on cross party working on drones. Both Harriet and George can be contacted on

The APPG encourages all new and returning MPs and peers to join the APPG to further its work in examining and scrutinising the Government’s approach to armed drones and targeted killing.

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