Parliament 'must lead setting of foreign policy with bigger role for committees'

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Parliament should take the lead in setting the UK's foreign policy with committees of MPs taking on a greater role, a think tank has said.

Policy Exchange has urged MPs to "rise to the occasion" and shape Britain's future strategy abroad, with much of the Government's attention on Brexit.

Comprehensive analysis of MPs' voting records on major foreign policy decisions since 2010 also shows the potential for division that still exists on Tory and Labour benches.

Policy Exchange is now calling on the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees in particular to play a bipartisan role and shape the direction of Britain's international outlook.

Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs committee, said: "The hung parliament makes MPs' views more important than ever, and gives the pressures on them from the communities they represent an impact on the Government's foreign policy.

"That's why this analysis of MPs and their constituencies is such an important addition to the national security debate of the UK."

Tory MP Mr Tugendhat also said Britain "must continue to demonstrate to our allies that we remain a reliable partner to share the burden of collective security that has been vital to our national security since 1945."

The report says a Government defeat on a major foreign policy issue could spark an election and damage Britain's international standing. But it says the narrow parliamentary majority and risk of a defeat in the Commons should not lead to the UK pulling back from the global stage.

Given the time and energy the Government is likely to spend on Brexit, Policy Exchange says the two select committees and the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy could now play an enhanced role "in providing vision and leadership in seeking to redefine Britain's place in the world".

Union and EU flags
The think tank noted much of the Government's attention was on the Brexit process (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The report says: "Their first job is to scrutinise, critique and challenge the Government where appropriate.

"However, they can also become hubs for new, cross-party thinking about the UK's priorities and place in the world."

Professor John Bew, co-author of the report, said: "Now, more than ever, our MPs must rise to the occasion in the debate about what sort of international role the UK wants to play in the 21st century."

Policy Exchange has analysed five major votes on foreign and defence policy since 2010.

They are the votes on Libya intervention in 2011, possible intervention in Syria in 2013, air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and the Trident renewal vote last year.

The analysis includes how individual MPs voted, as well as how different MPs from the same constituencies voted in order to assess any patterns in local opinion.

The research highlights the potential divisions on both sides of the Commons.

Of the 30 Conservative MPs who rebelled on the Syria vote in 2013, 23 were returned to Parliament this summer.

The DUP, with which the Government has a confidence and supply arrangement to support it on key votes, also went with Labour on this vote.

Labour is similarly divided, with 44 out of its 47 MPs who voted against Trident renewal last year having returned to Westminster.

Some 90% of the 153 anti-intervention Labour MPs who voted against air strikes in Syria in 2015 remain in Parliament, as do 88% of the 66 Labour MPs who defied Jeremy Corbyn and voted for intervention alongside the Government.