UK drones letter to UN casts doubt on Prime Minister’s claims to Parliament

September 10, 2015

The British Government has told the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the campaign against ISIS in Iraq provides legal justification for UK drone strikes in Syria – a claim which is different to that of pure UK ‘self-defence’ provided by David Cameron to MPs earlier this week.

On Monday, David Cameron told MPs that strikes he had ordered in Syria were legal because they were taken to prevent attacks on the UK. However, in a letter sent to the UNSC on the same day, the British Ambassador also states that “ISIL is engaged in an ongoing armed attack against Iraq, and therefore action against ISIL in Syria is lawful in the collective self-defence of Iraq” – a justification which was not provided to MPs in the Prime Minister’s statement.

The letter, published today by the United Nations, is the UK’s official submission to the Security Council outlining the legal justification for the strikes under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.  While it states that the drone strike “was a necessary and proportionate exercise of the individual right of self-defence of the United Kingdom,” it also argues that “action against ISIL in Syria is lawful in the collective self-defence of Iraq.” The latter statement was not made to MPs, and appears to be at odds with Parliament’s vote in 2013 blocking strikes on Syria.

Commenting, Kat Craig, Legal Director of Reprieve’s Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team, said:

“The Prime Minister’s supposed reasons for carrying out this unprecedented drone attack seem to be changing by the day. Parliament voted strikes in Syria down, the government promised to return to Parliament if it were going to strike again, and yet the PM has just told the United Nations he struck Syria in order to defend Iraq. This is precisely why we need a full explanation of the legal and factual rationale for this attack without further delay.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140

2. The original UK letter the UN Security Council as sent can be seen here. A UN document containing the text of the letter can be seen here.