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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Rishi Sunak Says UK Strikes Against Houthis Were Self Defence

Rishi Sunak addressed the House of Commons on Monday afternoon (Alamy)

5 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged people to not "fall for the malign narrative" that the UK strikes on the Houthis in Yemen were concerning the conflict between Israel and Gaza, arguing it was instead a simple matter of self defence and upholding freedom of navigation for British vessels.

"We shouldn't fall for their malign narrative that this is about Israel and Gaza, they target ships from around the world," Sunak told the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

"We continue to work towards a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and to get more aid to civilians. 

"They fired on our ships and our sailors. It was the biggest attack on the Royal Navy for decades and so we acted. We did so in self defence consistent with the UN Charter and to uphold freedom of navigation as Britain has always done."

He stressed that they were "limited strikes" but said that they had been successful in destroying all 13 planned targets. 

"I do not take decisions on the use of force lightly, that's why I stress that this action was taken in self defense," he continued.

"It was limited, not escalatory. It was a necessary and proportionate response to a direct threat to UK vessels and therefore to the UK itself."

The Prime Minister urged the chamber to "recognise the risks of inaction", arguing that if the US and UK had not intervened, international security and the rule of law would have been weakened, and it would "send a dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game".

He also pointed out that the Houthis' attack could risk worsening the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen itself, explaining that aid for around 100,000 Yemenies from the UK arrives every month via these routes through the Red Sea.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said in a speech on Monday morning that 2024 will be a crucial year in which the UK and its allies must make a "stark choice" to defend themselves against growing international threats.

Shapps, who was appointed defence secretary in August last year, gave a speech to Lancaster House in which he declared the world was at the "dawn of this new era", moving from "a post-war to pre-war world".

Grant Shapps delivered a speech on Monday morning (Ministry of Defence)
Grant Shapps delivered a speech on Monday morning (Ministry of Defence)

He described 2024 as an "inflection point" in which Ukraine's fate "may well be decided" and nearly half of the world's population will go to the polls in elections.

"For the UK it must also be a moment to decide the future of our national defences," Shapps said, arguing that Britain still has the power to "influence world events" and must not "shrink down into ourselves".

Defending the UK's decision to strike Houthi targets in Yemen, he said the world had "sent a very clear message" that civilian lives and the global economy must not be under threat. 

"We could not have been clearer with our warnings, which they chose to ignore and enough was enough," Shapps said. 

He added that Government would "keep it under review" whether further strikes would be needed. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on Monday that the UK's aim was to "restore stability back to the area" and when asked whether further action might be taken, said that the UK would "not hesitate" to ensure its national security.

Labour leader Keir Starmer told Sky News on Monday that while his party supported the government's military action against the Houthis, they now needed to hear the "scope, the basis, the full reasoning behind the decision," after parliament was bypassed in order to urgently carry out action late last week.

"The question of whether more action may be needed and what processes will be put in place," he said, outlining what he wanted to hear from Sunak in his statement to the Commons.

In his speech, Shapps said that due to escalating international threats, his department would strive to reach 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence spending "as soon as possible", as "the era of the peace dividend is over". As a member of NATO, the UK is committed to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence each year.

"In 2024, I'm determined to do even more and that's why I can announce today the UK will be sending some 20,000 personnel to lead one of NATO's largest appointments since the end of the Cold War," Shapps said.

The defence secretary announced that in the first half of 2024, the UK will send thousands of service personnel from across the army, navy and RAF across Europe to "lead one of NATO's largest appointments since the end of the Cold War": Steadfast Defender 24, an exercise for practising NATO and national defence plans.

He also spoke about the importance of deterrence, saying that the military needed the "same goal of deterrence" across the board and to modernise as a "critical priority".

"An age of idealism has been replaced by a period of hard-headed realism," Shapps said.

"Back in the days of the Cold War, there remained a sense that we were dealing with rational actors. But these new powers are far more unstable."

He said that a "new, worrying consideration" was that many of the UK's enemies were now connected with one another, with Russia and China conducting regular joint exercises and Putin relying on Iranian drones and North Korean ballistic missiles to fuel his bombardment in Ukraine.

Shapps then went further to describe threats from non-state actors, citing examples of acts of terrorism and assassination attempts across the world in recent years. He also mentioned an increasing number of cyber attacks on businesses and said that mass migration can be "cynically used as a weapon of war".

"Put it all together and these combined threats risk tearing apart the rules-based international order established to keep the peace after the Second World War," Shapp said.

"Now some argue these threats are not existential to the UK, and yet what happens elsewhere quickly happens here."

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