Government policy on drones in chaos as minister admits “misleading” public
February 4, 2018
The Government’s policy on when it will target people with drone strikes around the world is in chaos after a crucial line in an official document was quietly deleted following concerns raised by Reprieve and an MP. A government minister has now admitted the document was “misleading”.
The U-turn came after questions were raised about a line in the Joint Doctrine on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the government’s much-delayed policy document on the use of drones which was published last September. It stated that the UK had a “practice of targeting suspected terrorists outside of the armed conflict itself.” This is something the government has consistently denied up until this point.
This was followed by the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson stating in a newspaper interview that he would “hunt down” suspected terrorists in “Iraq and Syria and other areas”, explicitly including the possibility of taking lethal action against individuals outside of the armed conflict zones authorised by Parliament.
Working with Reprieve, the SNP Defence Spokesman, Stewart McDonald MP, wrote to the Ministry of Defence on 11th December. Then three days before Christmas, a new version of the Joint Doctrine was quietly uploaded, with the crucial line about targeting outside of armed conflict removed.
In a letter to Mr McDonald on 17th January, Defence Minister, Mark Lancaster admitted the initial document contained “erroneous drafting” and “misleadingly” suggested a policy of using lethal force outside of armed conflict.
Commenting, Jen Gibson, Head of Reprieve’s Assassinations team, said:
“The Government appears to be in complete chaos over this. We had the Defence Secretary vowing to hunt people down anywhere. Then we had a long overdue, official document saying the government have a ‘practice’ of killing people outside of armed conflict zones. And now we have a minister claiming there is no policy at all and their own document was ‘misleading’.
“Unless Government publishes its policy, we risk being dragged on President Trump’s coat tails into unending conflicts around the world, from Yemen to Niger. The public has a right to know the Government’s policy on taking lethal strikes in our name. And our armed forces deserve the protection of greater legal clarity and guidance.”
Notes to Editors:
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org, or +44 (0)7768 558435.