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David Cameron raises prospect of further strikes in Yemen, warning Britain will follow ‘words with actions’

Foreign secretary insists Britain’s strikes in Yemen were necessary after weeks of escalating attacks on cargo ships

Archie Mitchell
Political correspondent
Sunday 14 January 2024 21:03 GMT
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Lord Cameron: Red Sea military action 'completely separate' from Israel-Hamas war

David Cameron has raised the prospect of further UK airstrikes against rebel Houthis in Yemen, warning that it is important they understand that Britain will follow words with action.

The foreign secretary opened the door to further strikes as Sir Keir Starmer doubled down on his backing for the government’s action in response to the Red Sea crisis.

Ahead of a debate in parliament over the decision to launch airstrikes, the Labour leader said “doing nothing” while Houthi rebels attack cargo ships in the Red Sea was not an option.

Sir Keir and Lord Cameron put on a united front on Sunday, insisting that Britain’s strikes on Yemen were necessary after weeks of escalating attacks on commercial vessels.

And Sir Keir said he would “listen carefully” to ministers about the need for any further targeted action.

Sir Keir Starmer and Lord Cameron on the BBC’s ‘Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg’ (PA)

The interventions came after days of strikes against rebel-controlled sites in Yemen, with the US launching “follow-on action” against a Houthi radar site.

In the early hours of Friday morning, in response to weeks of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the strategically crucial Red Sea, US and UK warplanes, ships and submarines hit 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets.

The Houthis, who back Hamas, claim they are only targeting vessels linked to Israel in one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, in response to the war in Gaza.

A spokesperson for the Yemeni armed forces in the Houthi-controlled north of the country said the bombardment “will not go unanswered and unpunished”. He added that the airstrikes will not deter the rebels’ support for the Palestinians.

But Lord Cameron denied any link between the war in Gaza and the Red Sea attacks, telling Sky News that the action was “completely separate”.

And he went further, saying that Britain is prepared to take further action in Yemen if attacks continue.

He said: “We have sent the clearest possible message to the Houthis that their behaviour is unacceptable, and we’ve demonstrated that we’re prepared to follow words and warnings with action.

“And that is incredibly important that they understand that.”

An RAF Voyager aircraft taking off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to conduct airstrikes on military targets in Yemen (Ministry of Defence/PA)

The foreign secretary also denied that the UK had escalated the situation. “The escalation has been caused by the Houthis. I mean the point is, since November 19, you have had these 26 attacks,” Lord Cameron told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

Writing in The Independent, Sir Keir backed the government’s action in Yemen and denounced Iran for “sponsoring terrorism”.

He also wrote of his support for Rishi Sunak in his decision to send British forces into action against Houthi militants, and for acting in the “national interest”.

And on Sunday morning, the Labour leader promised to “look at the case the government puts forward” for any further strikes.

He told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that there needs to be a debate in parliament on Monday about the military operation that has taken place.

“I will have to listen carefully to whatever the government says about any further action that may be needed,” he said.

Sir Keir agreed with Lord Cameron, saying: “I think it is important to look at what Houthis are doing in the Red Sea, because those attacks were taking place, they were ramping up and escalating.

“And sitting back and simply doing nothing in that situation is not an appropriate way to respond.”

That comes despite criticism of the strikes from left-wingers close to Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who now sits as an independent MP, accused Sir Keir of going back on a pledge in his leadership campaign against Mr Corbyn.

But Sir Keir has used the crisis as a way to distance himself from the leadership of Mr Corbyn, who has been a staunch critic of Nato.

Sir Keir appeared to row back on yet another pledge made in the last Labour leadership contest, in which he was attempting to win over left-wing Labour members, to ensure that parliament would be required to consent to any UK military action.

Sir Keir said he had only meant that a parliamentary vote would be needed if the UK was putting “boots on the ground”.

Left-wing pressure group Momentum accused him of “serial duplicity”, calling instead for a policy of “peace and human rights”.

Sir Keir also appeared to row back on a commitment to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying only that Labour in government would “review the situation”.

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