Last updated at 8:56 AM on 15th December 2010
No prime minister should take the country to war without first having consulted all members of his Cabinet, the head of the civil service said yesterday.
It follows years of claims that Tony Blair’s cabinet never properly discussed Britain’s participation in the disastrous Iraq War.
The new rule is contained in the ‘Cabinet Manual’, the first ever guide to how our system of government should operate.
New rules: The 'Cabinet Manual' is the first ever guide that shows how our system of government should operate, and will make it harder for a Prime Minister to act unilaterally without support
Its author, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, denied the 11-chapter document was a precursor to a written constitution for the UK – long cherished by the Lib Dems.
But some of the stipulations of the guide, commissioned by Gordon Brown earlier in the year, will be seen as restricting prime ministerial power.
The report lays out for the first time, for example, the issues that Cabinets should be asked to discuss – meaning it will be harder for prime ministers to take unilateral action.
It says: ‘There can be no hard and fast rules about the issues that should be considered by Cabinet itself and it is ultimately for the prime minister to decide the agenda, on the advice of the Cabinet Secretary.
‘However, the following is an indication of the kind of issues that would normally be considered by Cabinet.’ The list includes: ‘Any decision to take military action.’
It follows concerns before the Iraq War that Tony Blair had bounced the cabinet into agreeing to join with the U.S. in the invasion.
Clare Short, International Development Secretary at the time, claimed last year there was ‘no real Cabinet discussion about the Iraq War’ in the days leading to military action – and that she was shouted down when she asked whether it was legal.
The fact that the Cabinet largely stood behind Mr Blair’s decision was seen as instrumental to the victory in a Commons vote to authorise entry into the war.
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