AS the first occasion in the modern era that Britain has launched an attack in a foreign country outside of the theatre of war, the RAF drone strike which killed two British Islamic State fighters in Syria sets a precedent – and with that comes the need for transparency and accountability. On both counts, Prime Minister David Cameron has made regrettable misjudgements.
Earlier in the summer, after MPs rejected his government’s motion on military action in the country, Mr Cameron said it was clear that Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, did not want to see the nation become involved militarily. “I get that,” he said. “The government will act accordingly.” Less than two months later, that pledge means nothing.
In his statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron made clear that without taking such direct action, the government had no way of preventing a planned attack at home. While we should understand this rationale, Mr Cameron should accept that he has not kept his promise to parliament.
The drone strike against Ruhul Amin and Reyaad Khan was an “act of self-defence”, Mr Cameron said. Based on his intelligence briefings, that may be the case. Given how intelligence sightings can be haphazard it is probably best to seize an opportunity if it presents itself. Mr Cameron, perhaps mindful of past events in the same chamber, was careful with his language when explaining the attack. The Attorney General was consulted, he said, and the strike was “entirely lawful”.
Mr Cameron should never have got himself in to the predicament where any strike would have to be pre-sanctioned by parliament. He should not now try to defend it. Already there have been calls urging the government to publish the legal advice it received; those are bound to intensify in the days ahead. The debate to come should accept that the launch of an unmanned drone is indistinguishable from any other type of offensive manoeuvre. It is military action, designed to kill in a foreign country. We should not focus on the means when it is the end that is important.
But the fallout from the strike is also an opportunity to reassess Britain’s role in Syria. The threat posed by Islamic State requires a concerted response. Direct military action is inevitable. The fight cannot be won by drone strikes or airstrikes alone. Eventually, Britain will have to put boots on the ground, an approach that will require the United States to do likewise.
That will not come easily. Britain is terrified that the escalating crisis in Syria will become another Iraq, even though the circumstances and the enemy are completely different, and Mr Cameron needs to understand that for the hard decisions that lie ahead.
Postcode penalty is getting worse
The explosion in choice brought about by the rise of online shopping has been a boon for ordinary consumers, the majority of whom have also benefited from increased value as a growing number of retailers compete for their custom. But for communities across some of Scotland’s most remote regions, old inequities persist.
A new report by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has found that shoppers in the Highlands and Islands continue to pay extra compared to their counterparts in the Central Belt due to delivery surcharges. What is most galling about the findings of the report is that, despite concerted campaigns at a local level, this postcode penalty appears to getting worse. Consumers in the Highlands are paying 17.6 per cent more than they did in 2012, while those who call the islands home have seen their bill rise by around a sixth over the same period.
CAS notes that it is standard for delivery companies to treat the Highlands and Islands as a separate accounting area, the end result of which means that its inhabitants “get the thin end of the wedge”. As one medium sized Highlands courier firm told the report’s authors: “It is more expensive to deliver to rural areas due to well understood factors like higher stem mileage, lower drop density, lower potential and actual productivity. Therefore, there are two choices. Either the more densely populated areas subsidise rural deliveries, or the rural areas themselves pay extra.”
There is, however, a third option. Consumers can choose not to give their custom to companies that charge unreasonable delivery rates.