9 January 2020




An adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 7 January on UK Special Forces: Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates growing momentum for introducing parliamentary oversight of Britain’s Special Forces, a step welcomed by Oxford Research Group.

In April 2018, ORG’s Remote Warfare Programme launched a report titled ‘Britain’s Shadow Army: Policy Options for External Oversight of UK Special Forces’ which explored the potential options for introducing legislative oversight of Britain’s special forces. This came in the context of evidence which shows that deployments of UK Special Forces are on the rise, while the role of Parliament has not shifted. As such, parliament remains unable to provide oversight over the use of these forces.

The report drew on several case studies of western allies with greater, equal or smaller numbers of special forces than the UK. It presented compelling evidence that it is possible to introduce oversight mechanisms which strike the right balance between the UK’s democratic values and the duty of government to protect the British population. For instance, this balance is already at play in the case of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) work in overseeing the UK’s intelligence agencies. 

The report recommended that the ISC - with appropriate amendments and increased resources - would be the most suitable home for external oversight as long as it remained the only committee where its members are beholden to the official secrets act with security clearance to access classified material. 


Liam Walpole, Policy Manager at ORG and co-author of the report, said:


Since RWP began research in 2014 on the role Britain’s special forces were playing as part of British military deployments overseas, it is staggering to see how far the political mood has shifted. As the adjournment debate on the 7th January demonstrated, there is now real cross-party support for finding a solution to the blanket opacity that surrounds Britain’s special forces and we at ORG hope that our research will provide a guide rail for finding a sensible, practical and positive solution.”

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen, Research and Policy Officer at ORG and co-author of the report, said:


“Parliamentary oversight over the actions of Special Forces would not only be in line with the democratic values of the United Kingdom, it would also bring the UK in line with its many allies who have introduced oversight and accountability mechanisms. As it stands, the UK is falling behind. This is particularly important as Britain’s Special Forces seemingly become ever-more relied upon in lieu of large-scale ‘boots-on-the-ground’ deployments.”

Contact information 


Liam Walpole

[email protected]

020 3559 6745

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

[email protected]

020 3559 6745