Drone Wars appeared in court yesterday to appeal the refusal of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to give basic details of UK Reaper operations outside of its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Judgement in the case is due to be given in around six weeks’ time.
In January 2020 the MoD refused to answer a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Drone Wars UK seeking the number of UK Reaper flights that had taken place outside of Operation Shader during 2019 and their location. The request was refused both on national security and international relations grounds. Subsequently, Ministers refused to answer questions both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords about the sorties, claiming that Reaper was an ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform’ and that Ministers “do not comment on intelligence matters.”
Labour MP Clive Lewis wrote directly to the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace, about the matter and was told in response:
“REAPER is not conducting strike operations outside those theatres for which Parliament has approved the deployment of UK Armed Forces. The vast majority of REAPER missions are reconnaissance and surveillance operations and as I am sure you can understand, to reveal where it is conducting those missions would provide valuable information to our adversaries.”
Clive Lewis and crossbench Peer, Baroness Viviane Stern, member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones and Modern Conflict submitted written statements to the Tribunal urging the need for transparency. Mr Lewis argued that the refusal to answer questions about the deployment of Reaper is “a serious backward step in terms of transparency and accountability.”
Baroness Stern stated:
“Despite repeated attempts by myself and colleagues to attain even the most basic information about the UK’s drone deployments, policy, and commitments, Parliament has not been provided with the accurate and timely information needed to meaningfully carry out its constitutional scrutiny role. Whilst certain details must be kept secret in order to ensure operational and national security, the current trend of withholding information about the use of drones purely because it is seen as an “intelligence” asset, as well as withholding vital information on the UK’s growing military capabilities and commitments is deeply concerning and unjustified.”
In court, the MoD argued against the release of the information on two grounds. Firstly, that the information was exempt from release under Section 26 of the Freedom of Information Act, arguing that the information would prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of relevant forces. Secondly, it argued that release of the information was exempt under Section 27 of the Act, in that its release would prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and any other State and/or the interests of the United Kingdom abroad. Read more