Justifying its decision, the government said it was acting under Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which says member states have an “inherent right of self-defence”. Cameron said there was “clear evidence” that armed attacks on the UK were being planned.
Writing in the Guardian, legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg argues that the attack “appears to be within the law”. International law, like English law, doesn’t require that you have to wait for an aggressor to strike before retaliating so long as the action is proportionate and necessary, he says. Under Article 51 you have to show that an armed attack is occurring or is imminent.
Phillipe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, told the BBC’s Today programme that the British government’s use of the Article 51 line of argument represented a “new direction” for the UK, which had previously treated cases like this as matters for criminal rather than international law. Now, he said, the US “warlike paradigm” had been adopted instead.
“Planning a future attack at some far away place has never been good enough in international law on the use of self-defence – it has to be imminent and on that we need the evidence,” he said.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on ministers to publish the legal advice, but Downing Street says it will not do so. Kat Craig, legal director of the human rights group Reprieve, said this meant the prime minister “has given himself a secret, unreviewable power” to kill anyone anywhere in the world at any time.
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