Defending the UK and Allies

– in the House of Commons am 3:32 pm ar 15 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 3:32, 15 Ionawr 2024

I would like to update the House on the action that we took on Thursday night against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

Since 19 November, Iran-backed Houthis have launched over 25 illegal and unacceptable attacks on commercial shipping in the Red sea, and on 9 January they mounted a direct attack against British and American warships. 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.

Alongside the United States, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, we ordered the RAF to strike two Houthi military facilities in Yemen. I want to be clear that these were limited strikes. They were carefully targeted at launch sites for drones and ballistic missiles to degrade the Houthis’ capacity to make further attacks on international shipping. I can tell the House today that our initial assessment is that all 13 planned targets were destroyed. At the drone and cruise missile base in Bani, nine buildings were successfully hit. A further three buildings were hit at Abbs airfield, along with a cruise missile launcher caught in the open. We have seen no evidence thus far of civilian casualties, which we took great care to avoid. I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible bravery and professionalism of all our servicemen and women.

The need to maximise the security and effectiveness of the operation meant that it was not possible to bring this matter to the House in advance, but we took care to brief Members—including of course you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the Opposition—before the strikes took place, and I have come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not take decisions on the use of force lightly. That is why I stress that this action was taken in self-defence. 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.

Let me be absolutely clear why the Royal Navy is in the Red sea. It is there as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, protecting freedom of navigation as a fundamental tenet of international law. The Houthis’ attacks on international shipping have put innocent lives at risk. They have held one crew hostage for almost two months, and they are causing growing economic disruption. Global commerce cannot operate under such conditions. Containers and tankers are having to take a 5,000-mile detour around the Cape of Good Hope. That pushes up prices and imperils the passage of goods, foods and medicines that the British people and others rely on.

We have attempted to resolve this through diplomacy. After numerous international calls for the attacks to stop, a coalition of countries gave the Houthis a clear and unambiguous warning two weeks ago. Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the attacks and highlighting the right of nations to defend their vessels and preserve freedom of navigation, yet the Houthis continued on their reckless path.

We should not fall for the Houthis’ malign narrative that this is about Israel and Gaza—they target ships from around the world. We continue to work towards a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and to get more aid to civilians. We also continue to support a negotiated settlement in Yemen’s civil war, but I want to be very clear that this action is completely unrelated to those issues. It is a direct response to the Houthis’ attacks on international shipping. We should also recognise the risks of inaction. It would weaken international security and the rule of law, further damage freedom of navigation and the global economy, and send a dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game.

There is another point here, which is often overlooked. The Houthis’ attacks risk worsening the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen itself. The UK helps to feed around 100,000 Yemenis every month, with aid arriving via the very sea routes that the Houthis have in their sights. The threats to shipping must cease. Illegally detained vessels and crews must be released, and we remain prepared to back our words with actions.

But dealing with that threat does not detract from our other international commitments; rather, it strengthens our determination to uphold fundamental UN principles. If our adversaries think they can distract us from helping Ukraine by threatening international security elsewhere, they could not be more wrong. On Friday, I travelled to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky and address the Ukrainian Parliament. I took a message from this House to the Rada that we will stand with Ukraine today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes. If Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there, and other malign actors will be emboldened. That is why Ukraine’s security is our security. That is why the UK will stay the course, and it is why I am confident that our partners share our resolve.

Far from our resolve faltering, our military support to Ukraine will increase this year. We will provide the biggest single package of defence aid to Ukraine since the war began, worth £2.5 billion. That will include more air defence equipment, more anti-tank weapons, more long-range missiles, thousands more rounds of ammunition and artillery shells, training for thousands more Ukrainian servicemen and women, and the single largest package of advanced drones given to Ukraine by any nation. All of that is on top of what we have already provided to support Ukraine.

In total, since the war began, the United Kingdom will have provided almost £12 billion of aid to Ukraine. We were the first to train Ukrainian troops, the first in Europe to provide lethal weapons, the first to commit main battle tanks, the first to provide long-range missiles, and now we are the first to keep the promise made at last year’s NATO summit, alongside 30 other countries, to provide new bilateral security commitments. Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO, and NATO will be stronger with Ukraine in it, but these commitments will help bridge the gap until that day comes.

Under the new agreement that we signed with President Zelensky, we are building Ukraine’s military capabilities; and if Russia ever invades Ukraine again, we will provide swift and sustained assistance, including modern equipment across land, air and sea. Together with our allies, the UK will be there from the first moment until the last. For all of this, I bring a message of thanks from President Zelensky to the British people. Today, I hope that the House will join me in sending a message back to the Ukrainian people: that we stand together as one in support of these firm commitments. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

We are building a new partnership with Ukraine, designed to last 100 years or more. Yes, it is about defence and security, but it is also about trade, investment, culture and more. There could be no more powerful sign of our unique bond than Ukraine’s decision to adopt English as the language of business and diplomacy. So, through the British Council, we are going to fund English language training for the Ukrainian people.

In dangerous times, we are investing in defence, hardening our critical infrastructure and building our alliances. We are resolute in our principles: international security; the rule of law; and freedom to determine your own future. An attack on those principles is an attack on everything that we believe in and on which our lives and livelihoods depend. As the home of parliamentary democracy and a leader in collective security, it is our responsibility to defend those principles and to defend our people. That is who we are. That is what Britain does and will always do. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Leader of HM Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:41, 15 Ionawr 2024

May I thank the Prime Minister for the secure briefing last week and for an advance copy of his statement? Let me reiterate that Labour backs this targeted action to reinforce maritime security in the Red sea. We strongly condemn the Houthi attacks, which are targeting commercial ships of all nationalities, putting civilians and military personnel—including British forces—in serious danger. The Houthi attacks are unacceptable and illegal and, if left unaddressed, could lead to a devastating rise in the cost of essential food in some of the poorest countries.

The international community clearly stands against the Houthi attacks. Alongside the UK and the US, four other countries were involved in non-operational support, over a dozen nations are part of the maritime protection force in the Red sea, and many others support the recent UN Security Council resolution, which condemns the Houthi attacks in the strongest possible terms. The UK strikes were limited and targeted, and did everything possible to protect civilian lives. That is a proportionate response.

Military action must of course always be underpinned by a clear strategy, and it is the role of this House to ask the right questions. So I ask the Prime Minister: what confidence does he have that his stated objectives have been met? What process will he follow in the face of continued Houthi attacks? What efforts are under way to maintain the support of the international community? Will he confirm that he stands by the parliamentary convention that, where possible, military interventions by the UK Government—particularly if they are part of a sustained campaign—should be brought before the House? Scrutiny is not the enemy of strategy.

While we back the action taken last week, these strikes still do bring risk, and we must avoid escalation across the middle east. Will the Prime Minister tell us how the UK will work with international partners so that our rightful actions are not used as an excuse by those who seek to expand violence throughout the wider region, or indeed reanimate the conflict in Yemen?

None the less, our armed forces across the region are showing the highest professionalism and bravery, both in defending commercial shipping and in this targeted action. We thank them. We are proud of them. They continue to show that Britain is a force for good, as does the UK’s unwavering unity in support of Ukraine and against Russian aggression.

On the Labour Benches, we have backed all military support for Ukraine, so again we back the Prime Minister’s announcement of £2.5 billion for Ukraine next year, and we strongly support the agreement on security co-operation, which will give Ukraine vital confidence to plan for the year ahead. I hope that it becomes a template for other allies to follow and that, in time, Ukraine will become a full member of NATO. To those listening in Kyiv, Moscow or elsewhere in the world, let me be clear: whoever is in government in Britain, the UK will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Returning to the middle east, it is now over 100 days since the brutal events of 7 October. Israel’s right to self-defence is fundamental, as is its duty to comply with international law. The longer the conflict in Gaza rages, the greater the risk of escalation throughout the entire region. On the Israel-Lebanon border, we must urge constraint. We must make it crystal clear to all parties that the UK does not support this conflict extending further in Lebanon.

Within Israel and Palestine, in the west bank, settler violence must stop immediately, and in Gaza we need a humanitarian truce now—not as a short pause, but as the first step on a road away from violence. The need for a sustainable ceasefire is clear to stop the killing of innocent civilians, to create the space for the return of all the hostages, and to provide urgent humanitarian relief to protect against disease and ward off a devastating famine. From that first step, we can begin a bigger push towards peace, a permanent end to the fighting and a lasting political solution. The hope of a two-state solution is fragile, but it is still there and we must fight for it, just as we must remain resolute in the face of aggression that threatens global security, whether in Europe or in the Red sea.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support for the action that we have taken. He is absolutely right to highlight the international coalition that, over recent weeks, has called out the Houthis’ behaviour, culminating in the UN Security Council resolution strongly condemning the attacks, which he rightly referenced. Our stated aim was to degrade and disrupt the Houthis’ capability to launch attacks on civilian shipping. As I indicated, our initial assessment is that our strikes have been successful in the specific targets that were selected. Obviously, that is an initial assessment, but that remains our case at the moment.

More generally, we want a reduction of tensions in the region and a restoration of stability. That is our stated aim. It is incumbent on the Houthis not to escalate and not to continue what are illegal and unprovoked attacks on civilian shipping that put innocent lives at risk and damage the global economy and the prices that British citizens and others pay for their everyday goods, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly pointed out.

I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was necessary to strike at speed, as he acknowledged, to protect the security of the operations. That is in accordance with the convention. I remain committed to that convention, and would always look to follow appropriate processes and procedures, and act in line with precedent—he will know that there were strikes in 2015 and 2018, when a similar process was followed.

I also provide the right hon. and learned Gentleman with the assurance that he rightly asked for about our international engagement, because there will be malign forces out there that seek to distort our action and to turn it into something that it is not. It is important that we engage with our allies and others in the region, so that they understand what we did and why. I provide him with the assurance that we have done that and will continue to do that, because it is important that there is no linkage between these actions and anything else that is happening. This is purely and simply to respond in self-defence to illegal attacks by the Houthis on commercial shipping.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s support for the announcements we made with regard to Ukraine. He is right to point out the importance of the security commitments we signed. Thirty countries at the Vilnius summit promised to do so. This House should be proud that the United Kingdom is again leading by being the first country to sign such a commitment, which I believe will serve as a template for others to follow. I can tell him of the enormous appreciation in Ukraine for the UK doing that, so that there is long-term certainty for the Ukrainian people of our support, as well as further deterrence to Russia and others against future aggression.

In conclusion, the confluence of these two events over the same 24 hours serves to highlight the increasing threats we face as a country. The global environment is becoming more challenging and more unstable. It is incumbent on us to respond to those challenges with increased investment in defence, as we are doing, and by strengthening our alliances, because ultimately we must defend the principles of international law, freedom and democracy, and freedom of navigation that we all hold dear. This Government will always stand ready to do that and to protect the British people.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The Prime Minister was clearly absolutely justified to respond as he did, particularly after the direct attack against HMS Diamond, but given that at the time of the Falklands campaign we had 35 frigates and destroyers and were spending 4.5% of GDP on defence, whereas both those figures can be cut in half to describe our situation today, does he agree that we certainly should not be reducing the numbers of frigates or destroyers, and that we certainly should not be mothballing, or otherwise decommissioning, our amphibious assault ships?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am happy to reassure my right hon. Friend that our intention is to increase defence spending from where it currently is up to 2.5% when circumstances allow. It is worth reminding the House that we have consistently over the past decade been the second largest spender on defence in NATO—larger than 20 other countries combined. Our plans will continue to provide that leadership.

Within that, there is a very strong equipment plan, underpinned by the £24 billion extra that the Ministry of Defence received in its most recent settlement, which for the Royal Navy includes Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32 frigates. With regard to the specific vessels my right hon. Friend talks about, the Defence Secretary has asked the First Sea Lord to plan how the Royal Marines’ excellent work can be taken forward, so that they have the capabilities they need to continue their work and the ability to be deployed globally. When that process concludes, the Defence Secretary will of course update the House.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn SNP Westminster Leader

I would like to begin by echoing the Prime Minister’s sentiments in relation to Ukraine. All of us on the SNP Benches remain firmly united behind its struggle against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

When Sir Walter Scott wrote that in war both sides lose, I am not quite sure he had factored into the equation the likes of the Houthis, because they are, of course, the fundamentalist’s fundamentalists. Unperturbed by being on the receiving end of Saudi Arabia’s bombing for many years, they are, the perceived wisdom would suggest, not just content but perhaps even quite happy to be on the receiving end of American bombs.

That context poses an enormous question for all of us in this House as to what comes next. If, as has been suggested by the Houthis’ actions over the course of the last 12 hours or so, the message that we sought to send has not been received, what do we intend to do? What is the plan? What is the Prime Minister’s strategy? Will he come to the Dispatch Box and, unlike his predecessors in relation to middle east conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, lay out when and how far he is willing to go in relation to military action? Clearly we need to understand his Government’s strategy in this conflict, because we cannot have an escalation that leads to further regional instability. While we would all agree, quite rightly, that we should not fall for the Houthis’ narrative that this is directly related to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, we cannot escape the fact that a ceasefire in Gaza is essential for that wider regional stability.

Let me finally say that, although the Prime Minister has sought to defend his decision not to come to the House last week, it is clear that the House should have been recalled. It is what the public would have expected, and I urge him to do better in future.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Ukraine and his support for our approach.

Obviously I will not speculate on future action. What we conducted was intended as a single, limited action, and of course we hope that the Houthis will step back and end their reckless and destabilising attacks, but we will not hesitate to protect our security and our interests where required. We would, of course, follow the correct procedures, as I believe we did in this case.

Although the hon. Gentleman is right to ask questions, we should also recognise the risks of inaction, because doing nothing would absolutely weaken international security and the rule of law, would further damage the freedom of navigation and the global economy, and—perhaps most important—would send the very dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game, and that is simply unacceptable.

Of course I am happy to answer questions about the situation in Israel and Gaza, but the House should make it very clear to the outside world that there is no link between what we have done last week and the situation there. This was a specific action in self-defence against the Houthis, who are conducting illegal strikes against innocent civilian shipping. That has nothing to do with what is going on in Israel and Gaza, and we must never let anyone think that this House believes that there is a link.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Ceidwadwyr, South Dorset

I commend my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary for his excellent and wide-ranging speech this morning, in which he rightly pointed out that we face dangerous times. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that, while how we spend defence money is important, it is vital and without doubt that defence needs a great deal more money—more than 2.5% and these arbitrary targets—if our brave men and women are to fight a sustained conflict in the years ahead?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I agree that the Defence Secretary made an excellent speech earlier. He highlighted, as I did, the fact that defence spending has consistently met our NATO obligation. We have been the second largest defence spender in NATO, and in the last settlement defence received the largest increase—£24 billion—since the end of the cold war. My hon. Friend is right that the threats we face are increasing. It is right that we invest to protect the British people against those threats, and that is exactly what the Government are doing and will continue to do.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Leader of the Liberal Democrats

While not having a vote in this House is regrettable, Liberal Democrats support limited strikes against the Houthis to open international shipping lanes, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that this region is a tinderbox. We have seen attacks on US soldiers in Syria and Iraq, the terrorism of Islamic State in Iran, the rockets of Hezbollah, and the Israeli strikes in Beirut—all stemming from the horrifying conflict in Israel and Gaza. Can the Prime Minister tell us what conversations he has had with our NATO and European allies, but also with leaders of Gulf countries, to ensure that these limited strikes remain limited?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said, we are engaging extensively with our international partners, including our Gulf allies. I spoke to the President of Egypt just last week, and will continue to do so. Let me say again, however, that it is important that no one takes away the idea that this House believes, on any side, that there is a link between direct action in self-defence against the Houthis and the situation in Israel and Gaza. They are entirely distinct. We will do everything we can to bring more aid into Gaza, and to make sure that we work hard for a sustainable ceasefire. That is separate from our ability and necessary duty to defend our interests and our people.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Ceidwadwyr, North Somerset

I commend the Prime Minister for his firm and principled response to events in the Red sea, but is it not clear from Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis that it will do anything to stop a lasting peace between the Arab states and Israel because the Iranian regime believes that Israel should not exist at all? Would it not be a real defeat for Iran to see it isolated by a meaningful resolution of the Palestinian issue and the supercharging of the Abraham accords in a process to bring peace and stability to the region, all underpinned by an international resolve to confront Iran’s proxies wherever they threaten our interests and values?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent remarks and for his work on the Abraham accords, which have done much to bring more peace and stability to the region. He is right to say that the behaviour of the Iranian regime poses a significant threat to the safety and security of the UK and our allies and ensures regional instability where we want to see more peace and stability. I can assure him that we are keeping abreast of all the risks in the area. That is why, for example, the Royal Navy last year and the year before continued to interdict illegal arms smuggling by the Iranians to the Houthis. We will continue to keep in close contact with our allies to take all the measures we can to protect our people and ensure that the Iranians’ destabilising influence in the region is reduced to the best extent possible.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Ceidwadwyr, Witham

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. He has been crystal clear on the need to degrade the capabilities of this terrorist organisation, the Houthis, that are causing havoc in the Red sea. He will also know that Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and is suffering a mass humanitarian crisis with over 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid and support. What will he do to ensure that the civilians of Yemen are not again engulfed in a mass humanitarian catastrophe?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising an incredibly important point. I reassure her and the House—she will know this from her own experience—that we are steadfast in our support to the Yemeni people as one of the largest donors of lifesaving aid to the UN appeal. We are also committing, I believe, £88 million in this forthcoming year—over the last several years we have committed £1 billion—and that will help to provide food for at least 100,000 people every month and deliver lifesaving healthcare through 400 facilities. The Yemeni people are suffering and we are doing everything we can to alleviate that suffering.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Llafur, Warley

Earlier this century, following threats of access to the Suez canal from Somali piracy, the international community united with a widely based taskforce to successfully suppress it. Now that the Houthis are threatening seafarers’ lives and international navigation—along with the trade and jobs that depend on it—will the Prime Minister seek the widest possible international taskforce to deal with that? Will he also support the people of south Yemen, who want nothing to do with these terrorists?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the necessity of building international coalitions, and I am pleased to say that that is happening. Operation Prosperity Guardian, which we are proud to be a partner of, is upholding freedom of navigation in the region. As has been mentioned, the UN Security Council resolution that was passed on 10 January is instructive in this sense. It condemns in the strongest terms the Houthi attacks, demands that they immediately cease all attacks and notes the right of member states to act in accordance with international law to defend their vessels. The right hon. Gentleman will also have seen the statement published by around a dozen of our allies before and after the strikes, which I hope will reassure him that there is broad international support for what we are doing and for the calls on the Houthis to desist.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I represent a constituency with a proud maritime tradition. Families are anxious about commercial shipping staff whose jobs take them through the Red sea, and a scramble towards military action is endangering those UK seafarers. Maritime unions are calling not just for more protection but for co-ordinated diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. After today’s attack on a ship, can the Prime Minister explain to seafarers how dropping bombs will lead to a de-escalation of a situation that is already endangering their safety?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

That question is quite extraordinary. It is Houthi rockets that are endangering the lives of seafarers in the region. We have seen shipping companies welcome the action we are taking, because they are keen to see security and stability restored to the region. That is what we are aiming to do: to disrupt, destabilise and degrade the Houthis’ ability to carry out these attacks and to restore stability to region. That is very much the focus of our attention. We are acting in self-defence to protect the lives of seafarers, not endanger them. The right hon. Lady would do well to call out the Houthis to stop what they are doing.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Kenilworth and Southam

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the international law case for his Government’s action in the Red sea is, unusually in my experience, relatively straightforward? Does he also agree that the next significant challenge is to maintain and enhance a multinational consensus on deterring and combating more of these attacks, if they occur, and that acting in compliance with and respect for international law assists us in that task?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. I hope he will have seen the published legal summary of our advice on this issue. This proportionate and necessary action was taken lawfully to respond to attacks by the Houthis, and it was the only feasible means to do so. The UK is, as he knows, permitted under international law to use force in such circumstances. It is right that we have due regard for the legal advice in such situations, and I reassure him that we will continue always to have regard to it. While we fight to protect international law, it is important that we also follow it ourselves.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Llafur, Poplar and Limehouse

According to the YouGov poll taken last month, 71% of the British public want a ceasefire in Israel-Gaza, yet last week the Government launched airstrikes in the Red sea in escalation of the situation in the middle east. Although the Government were not under any constitutional obligation to have a parliamentary vote on that military action, or to abide by the result of any such vote, does the Prime Minister believe that the Government have a duty to the British public and the parliamentary community, which represents the British people, in building political support for such military action?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The Leader of the Opposition rightly said we need to ensure that malign actors do not try to distort what we have done for their own purposes. I gently say to the hon. Lady that to conflate and link our action against the Houthis with the situation in Israel-Gaza just gives ammunition to our enemies who seek to make things worse in the region.

We acted in self-defence, and I have explained the reasons, the processes that we followed and the accountability that I have to Parliament, which I am now discharging. Separately, we will, of course, work very hard to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza and to try to bring about the sustainable ceasefire that we all want to see.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Ceidwadwyr, Northampton North

I commend my right hon. Friend for prosecuting this military action. As a matter of law it was highly necessary and clearly proportionate, and his legal position is watertight. Countries around the world depend on that route but, as usual, it is the British and the Americans who do something about protecting it. However, there are reports that more Houthi attacks are taking place this afternoon. Will he take more military action, if necessary?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his support. Of course, he will understand that I will not speculate on future action. This was intended as a limited single action, and we hope the Houthis will now step back and end their destabilising attacks. As I said earlier, we will not hesitate to protect our security, our people and our interests, where required. If we do so, we will, of course, follow the correct procedures and precedent, as we did in this case.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

The Prime Minister is right that Ukraine needs military support, but it also needs to be rebuilt. Last year, the British Government opposed proposals that we should seize $300 billion-worth of Russian state assets sitting in banks around the world, including in the UK, and use them to rebuild Ukraine. However, I note that the Foreign Secretary said in the United States of America in December that he is now arguing that we should be able to seize those assets. Should we not legislate to ensure Putin pays for the reconstruction of Ukraine?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am not entirely sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the situation. I agree that Russia must pay for the long-term reconstruction of Ukraine and I have been clear about that. On the G7 leaders call at the end of last year, I was the one who raised this issue and, as a result, the G7 have collectively tasked Finance Ministers with exploring all lawful routes to ensure that Russian assets are made available for that purpose. We are working at pace to identify all options for seizing those assets, and I reassure him that we are ensuring, in conjunction with our international allies, that the measures will be safe, robust and compliant with the international rule of law. Again, it is the UK, together with the US, that has been leading that conversation in the G7.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Ceidwadwyr, Horsham

Houthi attacks on shipping are a global problem, and it is right that we acted, alongside our partners. Where close allies did not participate in those airstrikes, we still need them to act and act alongside us. Will we encourage them to redouble their efforts to interdict arms smuggling from Iran into Yemen and therefore help to degrade further the military capacity of the Houthis?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we will continue to work with our allies. I hope he will have seen the statement put out by about a dozen of our allies after the strikes reiterating their support for what we have done. He will know that there was non-operational support from a handful of other countries, together with the much larger coalition of nations that are involved, in different ways, in Operation Prosperity Guardian. Where other countries can play a part in interdicting Iranian shipments, bringing stability to the region and protecting international shipping, we of course want to work with them. The Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are having those conversations as we speak.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

We live in most challenging times, with instability in the middle east, Europe and Africa. It is important that we have the right kind of leadership and response. We must make sure that our international shipping routes remain open. What is the Prime Minister’s assessment of the degradation of the Houthis’ capabilities after the action last week? On Ukraine, we must stand united in this House in saying that the Russians must be defeated for the aggression they have shown. We should remain together, united, in saying once again, “Slava Ukraini”. Lastly, the Prime Minister talks about a sustainable settlement in Gaza. It is important that we recognise the scale of the humanitarian suffering, so may I ask him for an update on what we are doing to ensure that in Gaza we deliver peace and security, with the hope of a better world as we come through 2024?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the action in Ukraine. Let me touch on his last point, because I agree with him; we are, of course, concerned about the devastating impact of the conflict in Gaza on the civilian population—too many people have lost their lives already—and there is a desperate need for increased humanitarian support into Gaza. I am pleased that the UK is playing a leading role: we have tripled our aid. Recently, the Foreign Secretary appointed a humanitarian envoy to the region to address some of the blockages, and we delivered our first maritime shipment of aid into Egypt—more than 80 tonnes of new aid. When I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I impressed upon him the importance of not only increasing the flow of trucks, but, crucially, if we can, opening up extra crossings into Gaza, so that we can increase the flow of aid. We will continue to press on Israel to do that, so that we can bring more relief to people who are suffering a great deal.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations

I thank the Prime Minister for a clear statement. It is reported that the drones being used by the Houthis are being helped by Iran. The American Enterprise Institute has reported that Russia has given $900 million to Iran for drones. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that we are doing everything we can in this country to make sure that none of that money is going through the UK financial system?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Let me tell my hon. Friend that she is right and we agree with the US assessment that Iran has directly supplied and directly supported Houthi attacks in the Red sea, providing intelligence, especially to enable their targeting of vessels, and providing them with missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. She is right to say that we should do everything we can to prevent that, and I reassure her on that. She will know about the measures we have taken over the past two years on financial transparency and beneficial ownership registers, which allow us to crack down on economic crime and money laundering. Physically, the Royal Navy is involved in interdicting shipments, as it has done successfully last year and the year before. It will continue to have a presence in the region so that we can disrupt those illegal arms flows.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is a critical time internationally, but we have a staffing crisis in our Navy, so can we do more to boost the recruitment of sailors by offering science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications? When will we see our Navy back up to full strength?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Our Royal Navy is one of the top five in the world. It is capable of operating in all the world’s oceans simultaneously and we are one of only two countries to operate fifth-generation jets from the sea, so we should be confident and proud of our Royal Navy. As I have said, we are investing in more equipment and capability going into the future. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight some of the recruitment challenges—the Defence Secretary highlighted some of them the other week—but we are doubling down on all our initiatives to ensure that our armed forces have the staff they need for the future, and that those personnel have the equipment and supplies they need to do their jobs effectively.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Ceidwadwyr, Chingford and Woodford Green

I fully support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I welcome both his statement about the action he took on the Houthi and the other part of the statement about Ukraine, because we must support Ukraine and its future.

On the reality of the Houthi, we know that Iran has supported, has supplied and continues to direct the Houthi in their attacks; it supported and directed Hamas in their brutal attacks in October; and it has armed and directs Hezbollah on a regular basis and tells them what to do, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We understand all that, so why are we still reluctant to proscribe the IRGC, which is responsible for so much of the co-ordination of that work? There are still two Iranian banks in the City of London feeding money to those terrible organisations.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he personally does in supporting Ukraine. I agree with him about the risks that Iran poses to the UK and to regional stability. We have sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC in its entirety. The National Security Act 2023 implements new measures to protect the British public—it has been described by intelligence chiefs as “game changing”—particularly in tackling espionage and foreign interference, with tougher powers to arrest and detain people suspected of involvement in state threats.

As my right hon. Friend will know, we do not routinely comment on proscription, but I hope he will have seen the statement today about our proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, on which I know he and colleagues have rightly been focused in previous years.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Annibynnol, Islington North

Some 17 million people in the region are living in hunger and food shortage, the people of Yemen have been bombarded by weapons supplied by Britain from Saudi Arabia for years, and we have a dreadful conflict going on in Gaza, where there are 30,000 people dead or missing. Where is the comprehensive plan by the western nations to try to bring about a comprehensive peace across the whole region, rather than pumping more and more weapons and money into more and more conflicts that will get worse? Does the Prime Minister have any hope for the future that there will be a lessening of conflict, rather than the present, very rapid increase in it?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I do have hope. As we and others take action to degrade and disrupt the capability of those who are malign actors in the region, that will give the space for positive voices to build the peace that we all want to see and to allow everyone to live side by side with dignity, security and opportunity.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out some of the humanitarian strife that people are suffering. We should be proud of our record in this House. We have committed over £1 billion of aid to Yemen since the conflict began in 2014. We are currently providing food to at least 100,000 people every month, as well as life-saving healthcare to 400 facilities. Yemen is entirely reliant for food on imports, largely by sea. The Houthi attacks serve to prolong the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people and disrupt the very supply of the food that the right hon. Gentleman, I and everyone in the House wants to see delivered to those people.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Ceidwadwyr, Meon Valley

Yemen has been close to my heart, as it has been for Valerie Vaz, because we were both born there. I thank the Prime Minister for all the humanitarian aid that is going there. What discussions has he had with the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council? What impact does he think the strikes will have on the fragile peace process?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in the region. As a UN Security Council penholder on Yemen, the UK is continuing to use our diplomatic and political influence to support UN efforts to bring lasting peace to Yemen through an inclusive political settlement. We support the Saudi-Houthi negotiations and, indeed, the deal that was announced in December last year by the UN special envoy for Yemen, whom my hon. Friend will know. Ministers continue to be in dialogue, particularly with our Saudi partners, so that we can try to bring to the Yemeni people the peace and stability that they deserve.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for stating today that, with the recent strikes, the UK sought to uphold international law and seeks to protect civilians. May I ask what the Government’s strategy is to prevent escalation? Also, last week the Government confirmed that there are currently no RAF aid flights or Royal Navy deliveries planned to take essential aid into Egypt and onwards to Gaza—why?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am not entirely sure that the hon. Lady is right on that. We remain committed to increasing the amount of aid that we get into Gaza. We have tripled the financial amount and, as I have said, we recently saw our first maritime shipment of aid into Egypt by the UK military ship RFA Lyme Bay. The hon. Lady will be aware that there are considerable blockages and logistical challenges on the ground, which we are working to help to resolve. That is also why we are putting pressure on the Israelis—I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu about this—to open up additional crossings such as Kerem Shalom. That will help us to increase the flow of aid into the region, and we absolutely want to see that happen.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Ceidwadwyr, Elmet and Rothwell

Britain has a proud tradition of defending waterways, which is vital for all of us who care about humanitarian crises and the delivery of aid. At the moment, we are seeing Russia trying to stop the movement of grain through Turkey, and the potential of the Houthis to shut off access to the Red sea. It is vital that we keep those international waterways open, because otherwise we will face a catastrophic situation and starvation across many African countries.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, particularly about the Black sea. He will recall that Ukraine’s grain exports disproportionally go to some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Russia started a campaign of targeting that civilian infrastructure last year. With our support, Ukraine has been able to push back the Black sea fleet and degrade Russia’s major combatant vessels. With the support of the City of London in improving the insurance for ships, we have now seen 300 ships export 10 million tonnes of cargo through the new Ukraine corridor. That highlights the importance of what my right hon. Friend said. Again, in this House, we should be proud of the leading role that the UK has had in making that possible.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

The Houthis are an antisemitic terrorist group that have caused havoc in Yemen over the past decade, starting a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people. Their slogan includes the lines, “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews”. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the shameful pro-Houthi chanting that we saw at many protests in the UK over the weekend?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I commend the hon. Lady for her remarks and I wholeheartedly agree with her. We will absolutely not tolerate that kind of language on our streets. We have been crystal clear about that. We have said to the police that they should take all decisive action against those who promote and encourage terrorism and, indeed, those who incite hatred and division on our streets. I hope the hon. Lady will have seen today’s proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is another organisation that uses language similar to that she describes. Its promotion of terrorism is rooted in antisemitic ideology. I hope that gives her reassurance that we will confront this and stamp it out wherever we see it, because it is not in accordance with British values. Jewish people in this country deserve to be able to walk our streets in freedom and security.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government, Chair, Liaison Sub-Committee on Scrutiny of Strategic Thinking in Government

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision last week to take military action in the Red sea, and the substantial increase in aid for Ukraine. Will he take this opportunity to reiterate and make it absolutely clear that it would be utterly against the national interest, and indeed the security interests of the world, for the British Prime Minister to be hobbled in the decisions that he makes about taking military action by the need to consult in advance? Does he not agree that the responsibility that he bears is intrinsic to his seals of office and should not be given up?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. In this case, it was necessary to strike with speed and protect the security of the operations. I believe that that is in accordance with the convention and, indeed, precedent on these matters. My hon. Friend is right: the Government need to protect the security interests of the United Kingdom. That means that sometimes we have to act decisively, quickly and securely. Fundamentally, we need to maintain the prerogative powers that allow the Executive to act in such emergencies, but of course I am responsible for those decisions, I do not take them lightly, and Parliament is responsible for holding me to account for them.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Llafur, Coventry South

Past mistakes in the middle east should have taught this House that military intervention that starts out as limited can quickly escalate, risking a sequence of events far larger and more terrible, and even risk dragging us into war. It is for that reason that, according to reports in The Times, Foreign Office officials were “incredibly nervous” about last week’s military assault in Yemen. Driving the region’s instability is Israel’s horrifying assault on Gaza, which has now lasted more than 100 days. Rather than giving Israel the green light to continue its brutal bombardment of Gaza, and risking a wider conflict, will the Prime Minister seek to de-escalate the situation and call for an immediate ceasefire?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Perhaps the hon. Lady would do well to call on Hamas and the Houthis to de-escalate the situation.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

Too many people give a free pass to the terrorists who perpetrated the worst murder of Jews. We have just seen an example of that, just as we saw examples of it on our streets this weekend, where people screamed, “Yemen, Yemen, turn another ship around”—completely unacceptable. One thing that links the Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas is their genocidal intent towards Jews and their hatred of everything that we stand for in the western democracies, which is why it is incumbent on us to defend those values. I agree with everything that the Prime Minister has said, and urge him once more to ensure that our police take action against those on our streets who openly support terrorism.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I reassure my hon. Friend that the police have extensive powers to arrest those who incite violence or racial hatred. Of course, we keep all laws under review. We are working with the police on whether we need to strengthen those powers, but I have been absolutely clear that there must be zero tolerance for antisemitism and any forms of racism. We will not stand by when we see it happen, and the police should ensure that those who do that face the full force of the law.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Foreign Secretary said yesterday that the purpose of the air strikes in Yemen was to send a message, but the message that we intend to send is not necessarily the message that gets received. The message seems to have been sent to many in the region that the UK is intervening in the war very clearly on the side of Israel. What plans do the Government have to manage and contain the escalation that is likely to ensue? Simply proclaiming that the activity was intended to be limited, not escalatory, does not make it so.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

That is why we took this action as a last resort, after extensive attempts at diplomacy, including a UN Security Council resolution. The hon. Lady could help, because this Parliament could speak with one voice so that the outside world and our allies in the region know that this has nothing to do with Israel and Gaza, and everything to do with our self-defence.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Ceidwadwyr, Wrecsam

Diverting shipping via the cape puts a financial burden on us all, none more so than the Egyptians, due to reduced traffic through the Suez canal. Will my right hon. Friend explain what discussions he has had with his Egyptian counterparts on their involvement in the multinational response?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I spoke to President Sisi just last week. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the economic impact on people around the world: 15% of global trade passes through this corridor, and we are already starting to see the impact of rerouting on the prices of shipping, and ultimately on the prices that British people will pay for their goods. My primary conversation with the President at the moment, though, is about increasing the flow of aid into Gaza, where Egypt is doing an extraordinary amount. We will continue to give it all the support that it needs.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Prime Minister said that the stated aims of this action were to degrade the capacity to strike. We have had confirmation that today another cargo ship—a US cargo ship—has been struck by a ballistic missile. There have been explosions at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. The Defence Secretary told the media this morning that this Government were prepared to

“take the decisions that need to be taken” if the attacks continue. Given the news that the attacks have continued, will the Prime Minister set out what those decisions are and how he intends to involve Parliament in that process?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It would not be right to speculate on future action, but what I can say is that our strikes were intended to degrade the Houthi capability and, as I said, they did—initial assessments show that they effectively destroyed 13 targets at two sites, including drones, an airfield and a cruise missile launcher.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Ceidwadwyr, East Worthing and Shoreham

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Yemen with my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond, we have seen at first hand how this brutal, misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic terrorist regime, backed by Iran, presiding over the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis and responsible for throwing tens of thousands of young men to their deaths on the frontline, have acted. Since 2022, they have benefited from a tentative ceasefire. Is this not a lesson in how sustainable ceasefires cannot be achieved with terrorist organisations unless and until they have been deprived of their arms and have succumbed to democratic legitimacy?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on Yemen. I say very simply that I agree with him and he makes an excellent point.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Llafur, Hayes and Harlington

I appreciate why the Prime Minister is trying not to link this to Gaza, but the reality is that the longer the Gaza war goes on, the greater the instability in the middle east. It is nearly 100 days since he gave his first statement after the terrible, horrendous actions by Hamas. He justified the actions this week with regard to the protection of marine rights. In those 100 days, 7,000 Palestinian children have been killed. What effective action is he taking to protect the right to life of Palestinian children and to prevent what is, in reality, the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian children by the Israel Defence Forces?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said, we are deeply concerned about the devastating impact of the fighting in Gaza on the civilian population. Too many people have lost their lives already, which is why we continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected. It is something that I continually raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu when I speak to him, and it is why we are doing absolutely everything we can to get more aid into Gaza to help those children and everyone else affected by what is happening.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth East

I very much welcome this robust statement, but I agree about proscribing the IRGC. Operationally, given the continued threat to international shipping and, by extension, to our own economy, will the Prime Minister consider tasking the carrier group that is ready to deploy from Portsmouth to the Gulf? More strategically, does he agree that interruption to our global supply chains underlines the symbiotic relationship between our security and the UK economy? If we rightly seek to play a greater role in upholding international law as our world becomes ever more contested, we need to expedite upgrading our defence posture, not least in the maritime space.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the interconnectedness of the world. The instability that we see, whether it is in the Red sea or, indeed, the illegal war conducted in Ukraine by Russia, has had a direct impact on the economic security of British people here at home. That is why it is right that we invest in defence and protect people, and that is why I know that he will continue to engage in dialogue with the Defence Secretary about how best to deploy that extra defence investment to ensure that we have the capabilities we need.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. Please resume your seats. We have already had an hour on this statement and it looks as though a considerable number of Members still wish to get in. Please ask short questions so that I can help get everyone in.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The right of innocent passage is a fundamental principle of international law and cannot be interrupted by non-state actors. However, although the Prime Minister might wish that this was not the case, international law is not a menu. It comes as a package; we cannot pick and choose which bits we want to uphold and which we want to ignore. Is he unable to see how ignoring Israel’s egregious breaches of international law in Gaza, while purporting to act in defence of it in Yemen, actually undermines international law and the rules-based order?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No. Israel has the right to act in self-defence against Hamas, who conducted a terrorist attack on it, and we continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected in that conflict.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The House should be in no doubt that conflating issues relating to Israel and Hamas is not a mature way to look at the problem that the Prime Minister had to consider last week. He has made the right decision on the evidence, in accordance with law. Had he failed to take that action, he would have been exposed to justifiable criticism in this House. In the light of the approach that he is taking, with regard to Ukraine and the work we are doing with the Ukrainian Government, will more be done to help our friends in Ukraine to develop further their justice processes, which in the long term will improve the good governance of that independent country?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point and I am pleased to tell him that the Attorney General is deeply involved in the work he suggests. We are supporting the work of the office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine in particular but, more generally, the agreement that I just signed with President Zelensky ensures our mutual commitment to helping him reform the public administration in Ukraine. That is something he is passionate about and keen to do, and he will have our support in doing it.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

The Prime Minister has heard the support for limited, targeted action against the Houthis, and I listened carefully to what he said about the efforts to prevent civilian casualties, which was unfortunately an issue I had to raise many times in relation to the previous conflict in Yemen. Can he say a bit more about what we are doing practically to ensure that strikes are tightly targeted against Houthi military capabilities? He rightly made the point that they were being done to protect civilian shipping, but can he say more about what we are doing to prevent civilian casualties?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman will respect the fact that we do not comment in depth on the choice of targets, but we do use carefully calibrated intelligence, in conjunction with our military partners. The targets were selected specifically to degrade military capabilities and narrowly focused on taking out military hardware that could be used to attack commercial shipping. I can reassure him that every effort was made to minimise civilian casualties, and our initial assessment says that has been successful.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Ceidwadwyr, Gillingham and Rainham

The Foreign Secretary said over the weekend that the world is in the most dangerous situation it has been in for decades. The UK has seen military deployments in Ukraine, Kosovo, Guyana and now the Red sea. It is crucial to ensure that our armed forces have the appropriate support and the resources they need. The Prime Minister has said that the Government are committed to an aspiration of 2.5% spending on defence. When does he see that aspiration becoming a reality, and will the Government now look at increasing that further to 3%, in line with the Foreign Secretary’s statement?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We have been investing in anticipation of the threats increasing, which is why at the last spending review the Ministry of Defence received a £24 billion cash increase—the largest sustained increase since the end of the cold war. Since then we have invested an extra £5 billion in increasing stockpiles and improving the sustainability of our defence nuclear enterprise. In 2025, when we have the next spending review, we will of course set out the target and the path towards 2.5%.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and assure him that the Democratic Unionist party will stand with him and with our Government in sending a clear message to those who would seek to attack either our shipping routes or our positions. We will not be silenced by those who believe that they can work in the shadows to supply Yemen, or indeed any other country, with intelligence or arms. Will he affirm that the friendship and approach between the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Canada and many other nations remains strong enough to stand together against any attempt to undermine our current position?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. He is right about the importance of working with our allies. He will have seen that all the countries he mentioned are joint signatories to the statement that was put out in advance and after the strikes.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough

Of course we have a right to defend ourselves, and of course sinister forces, such as the Houthis and Iran, are exploiting these tensions, but as we have influence on the Americans because we step up to the mark, can my right hon. Friend work with the American President to ensure that, just as he is completely vigorous in defending Israel and its right to exist, he is even as vigorous in defending the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, in peace and justice, without a settlement being imposed on them every week?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I say to my right hon. Friend that we want to see the long-term future of a two-state solution where Palestinian and Israeli people can live side by side in security and freedom, and with dignity and opportunity. That is the future that we are all striving for, and the events of the past few months have just reminded us that we need to double our efforts on making that happen.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Llafur, Birkenhead

I regard with the utmost seriousness the threat posed by Houthi forces to mariners in the Red sea, but does the Prime Minister accept that upholding the right to freedom of navigation in the region is an international challenge that should be dealt with through international diplomacy aimed principally at securing a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, and that, by joining US-led military action without reference to the UN, we are in danger of exacerbating the threat posed to British citizens by terrorism?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Again, the hon. Gentleman has wrongly linked and conflated the situation in Israel and Gaza with the illegal attacks by the Houthis on innocent commercial shipping. That is simply wrong. As I pointed out in my statement, extensive diplomatic avenues had been pursued before military action was taken as a last resort, including a UN Security Council resolution.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

I commend the Prime Minister for his action. He has acted clearly on robust legal advice, and the legal position in international law is surely clear. Does he agree, first, that it is unhelpful—and frankly dangerous—to make bogus comparisons; and secondly, that the greatest risk of escalation going forward will be in failing to act robustly when clear and egregious breaches of international law take place?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I agree with everything my hon. Friend says. He is absolutely right that there is a risk in inaction. To have done nothing in the face of these attacks would have been to damage the security of our people and our interests.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to protecting the fundamental tenets of international law and upholding the fundamental principles of the United Nations, but is it equally as distinct and limited to this action as it to all other situations?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I did not completely follow what the hon. Gentleman said, but I said that our actions in this case were specific to the case at hand. We acted in self-defence because there were escalating attacks from the Houthis and defiance of international diplomacy. It was right that we took action to protect the security and interests of our people.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Ceidwadwyr, Filton and Bradley Stoke

Given the global shortage of basic ammunition, artillery rounds and air defence systems and missiles, is it not time that we upscaled our industrial defence capacity so that we can continue to support our friends in Ukraine and replenish our own stocks?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

That is an excellent point. In a word, yes. That is why we have invested £2.5 billion in rebuilding our stockpiles. Beyond the money, we do need to build our defence industrial capability. That is a challenge shared across NATO that I have discussed extensively with partners, including the NATO Secretary-General. Of course, part of our agreement with Ukraine is how we can mutually help to support and grow our defence industrial complexes.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

The death and destruction in Gaza is intolerable. Well over 20,000 children and innocent civilians have already been killed by Israeli forces, more than 100 Israeli hostages are still held by Hamas, and there is the real risk of an escalating wider regional conflict. We desperately need an end to the violence, so can the Prime Minister explain exactly what diplomatic progress he has achieved towards securing a sustainable ceasefire and peace in Gaza?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for being, I think, the first Member on the Opposition Benches to remind the House that Hamas still holds 100 Israeli hostages—it is good that he pointed that out. He is right: we are continuing to do everything we can to bring about that sustainable ceasefire, including working with the Qataris and others to secure the release of hostages and put more aid into Gaza, because I want to see what the hon. Gentleman wants to see. No one wants to see this conflict go on for a moment longer; it must be a sustainable ceasefire, and that is what we will work hard to bring about.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran is once again ramping up its uranium enrichment activity to near weapons grade, so in welcoming today’s statement and the action we have taken, I also urge my right hon. Friend to give the House his assurance that he and his counterparts among our allies are not losing sight of the really big question about whether Iran should be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. Has he considered whether it is the right time to activate the snap-back sanctions provisions of the joint comprehensive plan of action?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

That is an excellent point. There is absolutely no credible civilian justification for enrichment at the levels that the IAEA has reported in Iran. We are determined that Iran must not develop a nuclear weapon, and we are actively considering next steps with our international partners. That means all diplomatic tools, including—as my right hon. Friend said—using the snap-back mechanism if necessary.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

We all stand behind Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, but does the Prime Minister accept that if we believe that the UK’s security is important in relation to Ukraine, we are giving relatively less than other countries such as Germany? Can and should we be doing more?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We should be proud of our record. We have been one of the largest contributors to the effort in Ukraine, but it is also important to recognise that we have consistently been the first country to act, and that has galvanised others. That is an important role that the Ukrainians especially recognise. I went through the capabilities that was true for, but again, crucially, we were the first country out of the 30 that promised to sign a security commitment. As others follow, that will enhance and improve Ukraine’s deterrent against Russia, and that is something we should be proud of.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Annibynnol, West Suffolk

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is in the Chamber, opening himself up to democratic scrutiny, but I also welcome the fact that he took the decision to act—took that heavy duty and responsibility—before coming to this House. It is folly to ask for a vote in advance of action, and it is in the interests of our national security that the Prime Minister can act. That precedent goes a long way back, well before the precedents he has cited of 2015 and 2018. It is the constitutional basis on which we defend ourselves as a country.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support and his comments. He is right that this is not a decision I took lightly, and right to point out that publicising an action like this in advance could undermine its effectiveness and risk lives. Of course, it is Parliament’s responsibility to hold me to account for such decisions, but it is my responsibility as Prime Minister to make those decisions.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The Prime Minister may not be aware—perhaps he is—that I am not the greatest expert on international relations, but I was born on 17 August 1940, when the German bombs were falling all over and I was sheltering in a shelter. I have been a Labour friend of Israel ever since I went to the London School of Economics, but I do not trust Netanyahu’s Government, although I do support the limited action that the Prime Minister has announced. As someone who was born in the blitz, I care very deeply about actions that might lead to an even greater conflagration in the middle east. That is the danger—it seems to me that it is exactly what Putin and Iran want. Please, let us be careful in our steps, although I do support this limited action.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and reassure him that the action we took was—I believe—necessary, but it was limited, proportionate, and in keeping with international law. That is the approach we will always take in such matters.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Ceidwadwyr, Colne Valley

This year, I was proud to once again celebrate Christmas and new year with Huddersfield and Colne Valley’s vibrant Ukrainian community, just as I have done for many years. They told me first hand how proud and appreciative they are of the UK’s steadfast support for Ukraine. Will the Prime Minister continue to make the case, not only to the British people but to our NATO and international allies, for why we must make sure, alongside Ukraine, that Putin’s evil aggression does not succeed, and remind people of what the dire consequences would be if it ever did?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If Putin were to succeed, it would not just embolden him, but embolden our adversaries around the world, and that is why it is important that we continue to invest in Ukraine. As I say to all our allies, an investment in Ukraine’s security is ultimately an investment in our security, and that is why we must stand with it for as long as it takes.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Government of Japan clearly brought the resolution to the UN last week for specific reasons, and it was a very detailed resolution that was voted on. One part of it, which they think is extremely important, is the part to deal with the “root causes” of the conflict in relation to Yemen. Can I give the Prime Minister an opportunity to reflect again on the question posed by my hon. Friend Stephen Flynn: what is the Government’s plan now to play a part in the ending of that conflict? What comes next?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said previously, we are supportive of the Saudi-Houthi negotiations and of the deal announced in December by the UN special envoy. We have been in dialogue specifically with the Saudis on this issue, and we continue to want to see a lasting peace in Yemen brought through an inclusive political settlement.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Ceidwadwyr, Erewash

I commend my right hon. Friend for his decisive action. The threat posed by Houthi rebels to global trade demonstrates the importance of maintaining well-resourced armed forces on land, at sea and in the air. Given the current challenges in recruitment and retention of service personnel, will my right hon. Friend consider further support for cadet units, such as the excellent ones at Ilkeston and Long Eaton in my constituency, to ensure that we have a trained supply of recruits who are ready and willing to serve?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

May I say to hon. Friend that that is an excellent idea, and I pay tribute to all her local cadets for the incredible job they do? I am sure the whole House will have experience of that in their own constituencies. I can say that we are introducing a number of ways to improve recruitment in the armed forces and look at more innovative ways to attract people into it, and I know the Defence Secretary will have heard what she said with interest.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Llafur, Nottingham East

Military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, in which the UK has played a part, has frequently resulted in unintended consequences, triggering further cycles of conflict in and around these countries. Will the Prime Minister accept that the US and the UK bombing Yemen risks escalating tensions at a time when violence is spreading in the middle east, and will he commit to allowing Parliament to vote on any further action?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think the hon. Lady’s characterisation of what we did was not right. It was not bombing Yemen; it was taking targeted, limited action against Houthi military sites that were launching attacks on civilian shipping. As hon. Members have said, it is also worth pointing out the risks of inaction, which she failed to mention, because doing nothing would send a dangerous message that British vessels, British interests and British lives are fair game, and that would be unacceptable.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Ceidwadwyr, Bro Morgannwg

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the action he has taken and for the leadership he has shown. Can he tell the House what discussions he has had with key influencers and key allies in the region such as Qatar, Egypt and others that have played a prominent part in seeking to de-escalate tensions in the area?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that I and both the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary are having those conversations. I spoke to President Sisi recently and, indeed, all other leaders in the middle east towards the end of last year. As we speak, the Foreign Secretary is engaged, together with his colleagues, in extensive dialogue to make sure our allies and partners understand what we did and why, and that we remain committed to seeing a peaceful future for everyone living in the middle east.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have been denied access to a Russian-occupied Ukrainian nuclear power station for two weeks and have not yet received 2024 maintenance plans for the facility. Can the Prime Minister tell me what assessment the UK Government have made of that situation?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think that just highlights Russia’s continuing malignant activity, which serves to cause everyone alarm, particularly when it comes to the security of nuclear power. The IAEA must have free access to all the sites it needs to, and it has been a long-standing concern that it has not been able to have that. We continue to call out Russian behaviour at the UN and elsewhere, and that is what we will do to make sure that it is accountable.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Ceidwadwyr, Totnes

The freedom of navigation is an uncontested right, whether it is in the South China sea or the gulf of Aden. Before I was in this place, I was a shipping broker. Could the Prime Minister reassure the shipping industry, of which London remains one of the foremost capitals, that we will be able to lay on more support with armed convoys through the gulf of Aden and into the Red sea, and that we will supply as much reassurance as possible and equipment for the maritime protection force that has been mentioned by others?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I hope my hon. Friend will have seen the welcome response from the shipping industry and leading shipping companies, which have welcomed the action we have taken to restore security to the region. We are members of Prosperity Guardian, which is something the shipping industry is keen to see, so that we can bring that safety of transit for all their clients. We will be in regular dialogue with them, as the Transport Secretary has been, in the coming days and weeks.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

Since the outbreak of war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, as well as the crisis in shipping security, which has now led to the UK military response to protect British interests, fighting between Hezbollah and Israel has been intensifying, risking a wider escalation engulfing Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and other countries. Can the Prime Minister be more specific and tell the House exactly what he is doing, working with the US and regional partners, to bring an end to the war in Gaza and to stop a full-blown regional conflict, which we are all very concerned about?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We are calling on Hamas and using our influence with their partners in the region to release hostages, and we are making sure we get as much aid into Gaza in the interim, because we know there is a need for it. We are concerned by the impact being caused, and the UK is playing a leading role in alleviating the suffering.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Ceidwadwyr, Penrith and The Border

I thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement on this necessary military action in Yemen. Can I join him in paying tribute to our brave armed forces? Can he reaffirm that this action is important for protecting freedom of navigation and the safety of shipping, which has direct and indirect impacts on world trade and the UK economy?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the impact of what is happening in the Red sea on British families at home. Some 15% of global trade passes through this corridor, and as we are seeing, if that has to reroute, it will have a direct consequence on the prices that British families pay. As we saw with the Ukraine and Russia situation, we cannot ignore what is happening. We need to act to protect British people and ensure their economic security.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

Of course the Houthi rebels must stop their attacks in the Red sea. The Prime Minister was correct in his statement to speak of the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He has spoken at the Dispatch Box today about the aid delivery to Yemen, yet he failed to mention that under successive Conservative Governments humanitarian aid to Yemen has fallen since 2018, both as a cash figure and as a proportion of official development assistance. If the Prime Minister accepts that there is a humanitarian crisis—not just in Yemen, but across the globe in Gaza, Ethiopia and other countries—will his Government return to 0.7%? That move would be supported by Members from all parts of the House.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We are the fifth largest donor to the UN appeal in Yemen, with a billion pounds since the conflict started. We are providing food to at least 100,000 people every month. It is a record that we should be proud of, where the UK again is leading by example and making an enormous difference around the world.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

Since 1875, the Royal Navy has had the key objective of keeping the Suez canal open for commercial shipping, so this action should have come as a surprise to no one, and I commend the Prime Minister on his decisive action in that regard. However, listening to the statement today, I am not hearing much of a connection with Gaza. What I am hearing again and again in questions is connections to Iran. It is easy to look at the symptoms, but the causes also need to be looked at. Will my right hon. Friend be working with our international allies to deal with the question of Iran?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the linkage is with the behaviour of the Iranian regime. We agree with the US assessments, and I can reassure him that we are working closely with partners. Obviously, we are taking steps to protect ourselves here at home with the National Security Act 2023 and other measures, but internationally we want to see Iran’s influence on the region create less instability. That is why, for example, our interdiction of illegal arms shipments is so important, and we will remain actively engaged on how we can do more.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Llafur, Eltham

Clearly we could not ignore attacks on international shipping, and we were right to act with international partners. We must continue to work to broaden that partnership in dealing with the situation as we go forward. Having said that, can the Prime Minister say how we measure success with this limited engagement? How do we deem it to be safe for international shipping to return to the Red sea? What is the end plan?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. On its merits, as I said, our initial assessment is that we have been successful in destroying the specific targets that were selected, but that remains an initial assessment. We want to see what he spoke about: a return of safe shipping to the region. The Transport Secretary is engaging regularly with companies about their passage, and we will continue to do everything we can, working together with our allies, to ensure that safe passage through the region.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Ceidwadwyr, Crawley

The Iranian-backed Houthis are a terrorist group who have killed hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and are fighting the internationally recognised Government in Yemen. The action that the UK took with allies last week was absolutely correct. What further efforts are the Government making to augment the already impressive international coalition, with more countries stepping up and playing their part, to ensure freedom of navigation, which is so important for global free trade?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we will continue to engage diplomatically to broaden that coalition. As he knows, 14 countries have signed the statement—the UN Security Council resolution—but ultimately everybody is impacted when freedom of navigation is imperilled as it is, not just through the security of their citizens, but because of the shock to their domestic economies from higher inflation. So I am confident that we will continue to have a broad coalition for condemning what the Houthis are doing and calling on them to desist.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

After the horrific events of 7 October, the Prime Minister told the House that the UK was working to prevent escalation. He said:

“we are increasing our presence to prevent broader regional instability at this dangerous moment.”—[Official Report, 16 October 2023;
Vol. 738, c. 24.]

Yet in the following months, nearly 24,000 Palestinians have been killed, and there has been cross-border fighting with Hezbollah, air raids in Lebanon and Syria, and now Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red sea, resulting in US and UK strikes in Yemen. Does he accept that the attempts to prevent escalation and broader instability are failing, that the cycle of violence must stop, and that that requires an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and an end to the indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

In Gaza, no one wants to see the conflict go on a moment longer than is necessary. We support a ceasefire, but it must be a sustainable ceasefire that will last. That is what we will continue to work to bring about.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Ceidwadwyr, Rother Valley

I congratulate the Prime Minister, who was right to act with force, determination and firepower against the Houthi terrorists to protect international shipping and keep the Red sea shipping lanes open. With the recent deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland opening up the real possibility of international and regional recognition of Somaliland as an independent country, which would help to enable stability in the horn of Africa, the southern end of the Red sea and the Gulf of Aden, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK should follow Ethiopia’s example and start the process to recognise Somaliland as a sovereign, independent country?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank hon. Friend for his support of our action. He will know that the Foreign Office and Ministers are regularly engaged with our partners in Africa. What we want to do is bring prosperity and security to the region, and we will continue to dialogue with everyone to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Llafur, Walsall South

Having been born in Aden, I am obviously saddened that the democratic and humanitarian crisis in Yemen over the last nine years has not provoked such an active response against the Houthis. Who advised the Prime Minister not to come to Parliament? How will he ensure that the peace agreement in Yemen is actively and vigorously monitored and pursued?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said, we support the Saudi-Houthi negotiations and the deal announced in December by the UN special envoy on Yemen. I urge the Houthis to stop jeopardising the best chance of peace in Yemen in years and engage constructively, so that we can expand the benefits that the truce has brought to the Yemeni people. Of course, we need to see progress from them on that. Once that is done, hopefully all of us can look forward to a brighter future for the Yemeni people.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Ceidwadwyr, Gorllewin Clwyd

There are credible reports that the Houthis, who launched missiles at HMS Diamond and the ships of our American allies, were trained in their use in Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC is therefore a direct threat to our servicemen and women, just as for many years it has been a threat to British citizens on the streets of the United Kingdom. I heard what my right hon. Friend said about the sanctions that have been applied to the IRGC, but may I urge him to recognise that now is the time to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, because that is what it is?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I agree with my right hon. Friend about the destabilising influence of the Iranian regime. We will continue to work constructively with our allies to ensure that we do not just protect our citizens at home, but reduce and degrade Iran’s ability to destabilise the region further.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement on funding for Ukraine and the UK-Ukraine security co-operation agreement, which, in line with the NATO-Ukraine commission’s programme, focuses now on increasing Ukraine’s defence industrial base and ensuring that it can provide long-term assistance against Russia’s aggression. Can he tell us what discussions he had with President Zelensky about exactly how both Government and UK manufacturers will be involved in implementing that in full?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the necessity of doing that. It was a feature of our conversations last week, but we also facilitated a visit by some of our leading defence companies to Ukraine at the end of last year to further the co-operation between our two countries. There is a path forward to see how we can build that—to build the defence industrial base in Ukraine to help it to defend itself in future.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Llafur, Bradford West

I associate myself with all the comments made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the commitment to root out antisemitism. It is unacceptable for British Jews to be held responsible for the actions of Israel as a Government, as is the idea that they can have any effect on the Israeli Prime Minister or his Cabinet. In the same vein, given the rise of Islamophobia, it has been a new low and a painful blow today for the Prime Minister to say to a British Muslim in this House, my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana, that she should tell Hamas and the Houthis to stop doing what they are doing. That is an Islamophobic trope. Maybe the Prime Minister will reflect, withdraw and take the opportunity to show leadership and apologise. Coming back to the question, the Government—

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I have said to all Members consistently not to conflate these conflicts and, when calling on the UK to de-escalate tensions, to recognise that the people causing these situations in the first place are the Hamas terrorist organisation and the Houthis. It has nothing to do with anything other than recognising the instigators of this violence and illegality, and ensuring that that is uppermost in everybody’s minds when we have these conversations about the best way to respond.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Llafur, City of Durham

Only a handful of MPs have had the chance to scrutinise the Foreign Secretary since his appointment last year. In fact, news presenters have had more opportunities to scrutinise him than we have. Parliament is supposed to be sovereign, and we must be able to scrutinise major decisions, such as last week’s air strikes. What steps is the Prime Minister taking to ensure that we in this House can scrutinise the Foreign Secretary, and debate and vote on military action?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell has made regular statements over the past couple of months on foreign affairs. I am here answering questions about last week’s actions, and the Procedure Committee is actively looking at how we ensure proper accountability and scrutiny— I gave evidence on that particular topic to the Liaison Committee in December.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

We must support the recognised Yemeni Government, not least by helping them to address the huge problems of malnutrition and hunger. The Government have slashed aid by almost £200 million. The Prime Minister has already answered several questions on humanitarian aid, but will he reverse the cuts to the aid budget to address the human suffering in Yemen, which only fuels the success of the Houthi terrorists?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I was proud that we hosted a food security summit, which was warmly welcomed by vulnerable countries last year. Perhaps the hon. Lady could tell the House how she would propose to pay for the £5 billion increase in the aid budget that she proposes.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

While the Prime Minister has clarified that the strikes in Yemen are disassociated from Gaza, the Iranian arc has drawn a different conclusion, not least as the strikes took place the same day as the International Court of Justice case brought by South Africa. We know that the only way forward is de-escalation. Given that assaults continue on the merchant navy, and assaults in Gaza continued over the weekend, when will the Prime Minister condemn Israel’s attacks on civilians and call for an immediate ceasefire?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I have addressed that previously. With regard to South Africa’s referral of Israel to the ICJ, that development is unhelpful. We do not agree with it and I do not believe it is right. As we have previously stated, Israel has a right to take action in self-defence against Hamas. It is important that it does that in accordance with international humanitarian law, and we will continue to make that point to it.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Llafur, Leeds East

We are now in a very dangerous moment, when the war in Gaza risks spreading into a much wider and even more deadly war across the middle east. There is a real risk that our country will find itself in yet another war in the middle east that it cannot get out of easily. To avoid any wider war, do we not now need an emphasis on de-escalation and diplomatic efforts? Does the need to seek such a wider diplomatic solution not make it more urgent to be pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said, no one wants to see the conflict in Gaza go on a moment longer than is necessary. We support a ceasefire, but it must be a sustainable ceasefire that will last. That means Hamas no longer in power in Gaza and no longer able to threaten Israel with rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism. Hamas simply do not represent the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

Some in the House may recall that one of my constituents was held captive by the Houthis for five years, simply for being in possession of a British passport. The House will know that we were able to get him safely returned, but we should be under no illusions about the nature of the Houthis. May I re-emphasise the importance of minimising civilian casualties in any action the UK is involved with? Will the Prime Minister impress that not only on our highly professional armed forces, but our partners in any further action taken by the UK?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Again, our initial assessment is that we were successful in minimising civilian casualties in this case.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

There are times when a Government need to take military action without the approval of Parliament, including for operational security or the element of surprise. However, last week’s strikes were signalled very plainly in the media. The strikes could have been debated, voted on and supported by this House in advance of action. Tomorrow, I will table a Bill that would require parliamentary approval for the engagement of UK armed forces in armed conflict, even if it is retrospective. Will the Prime Minister support it?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I said, it was necessary to act with speed to allow our armed forces to maintain the vital security of their operations and to ensure their effectiveness. I believe that that is in accordance with the convention on the deployment of military force. As I said previously, we must maintain the prerogative powers that allow the Executive to act in such emergencies, but I am here in Parliament to explain the action in full and take responsibility for it.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

The Prime Minister, earlier in his statement, said that the Houthis were aided by Iranian military intelligence assets to target British shipping. Does that mean that the UK Government consider Iranian military intelligence assets to be legitimate targets for future military strikes?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I think what I said was that we agree with the US assessment that Iran supported Houthi attacks and provided intelligence in a general sense to enable Houthi targeting of vessels. I have talked about the destabilising influence of Iran in the region and the threat it poses to the UK. That is why we have taken significant and decisive action to protect ourselves against that threat and will continue to work with our allies to restrain its malign influence.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Llafur, Oldham East and Saddleworth

As much as the Houthis might wish to conflate their piracy with support for the Palestinian people, their indiscriminate attacks on shipping from across the world indicate otherwise. But while I agree that under international law there was justification for this military intervention, what was the Prime Minister’s assessment of the risk that the action could ignite conflict across the middle east, and of apparent double standards in when the UK or its allies choose to observe international law?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We always strive to ensure that we comply with international law, as we did in this case, but we should also recognise the risks of inaction. Doing nothing would very clearly weaken international security and the rule of law, and damage freedom of navigation and the global economy. Crucially, it would send a very dangerous message: that British vessels, British lives and British interests are fair game. That is not something we could allow to stand.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

In his statement, the Prime Minister told us that one of his motives was the ordinary people of Yemen. He said that the Houthis’ attacks risked worsening the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen itself, before patting himself on the back over the number of people the UK helps to feed in Yemen. He is not wrong about the Houthis, but surely the cuts in the international aid budget pose the biggest threat to Yemen and the people of Yemen. Two years ago, the Government cut it from £221 million a year to £81 million—an eye-watering cut. Will the Prime Minister restore that aid, and if not, does he understand why we in the SNP remain unconvinced of his motives?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said, we are proudly one of the largest contributors of aid to Yemen. It is the Houthis who, by disrupting shipping, are disrupting the very supplies of food that are necessary to feed their people. When it comes to increasing the aid budget, I took the decision I did because I believed it was in our country’s best interests, given its financial situation post covid. We now know that Scotland is the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom economy, so perhaps the hon. Lady can explain to the British people what taxes she would increase to pay for an increase in the aid budget.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Llafur, Sheffield Central

The Prime Minister is right to say that there is a consequence of inaction just as there is a consequence of action, and clearly the Houthis gave no alternative to the response that has come from the UK and our allies. However, the Prime Minister also said—incredibly, I thought—that their attacks on shipping were completely unrelated to the appalling civil war in Yemen, for which they are entirely responsible and which has claimed nearly 380,000 lives. Surely the attacks had everything to do with that conflict.

There is a concern that the Houthis’ political position has been strengthened inside Yemen and beyond as a result of the actions on both sides. What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the impact of these actions on the peace process, and can he spell out not what we have done and been involved in, but what more we will do to achieve a political solution and a political settlement in Yemen?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

What I said was that our response was not linked to the conflict in Gaza and should not be conflated as being so. As I have said, we are the penholder on Yemen in the UN Security Council, so we are having extensive diplomatic engagement with allies, notably the Saudis, to see whether we can support the deal that was announced in December, and we will continue to do so. Obviously, the onus is on the Houthis to engage with that process to bring about peace and stability for the people of Yemen.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Nothing angers me more than those who choose to use the plight of the Palestinians to further their own nefarious ends. That applies to Iran primarily, but also to its proxies. Does the Prime Minister accept that the best way to pull the rug from under the Iranian regime is to achieve that two-state solution by way of an immediate bilateral ceasefire in this conflict?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said previously, we do support a ceasefire but it must be sustainable, and multiple things have to happen for it to be so. As I have also said previously, we remain committed to a two-state solution, because I believe in a future—as do the Government and, I think, the House—in which Palestinian and Israeli people can live side by side in peace and security and in which everyone can live their lives with dignity and opportunity. That is the future that we are striving to build.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I welcome the Prime Minister’s remarks about the situation in Ukraine and our commitment in that regard. However, the escalation and conflagration of the situation in the middle east, which has seen 23,000 deaths of civilians including children, is not only shocking but is now extending to a crisis of other nations and across the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to see a negotiated ceasefire in Gaza, and that ultimately, 30 years on from the Oslo accords, we have to see a “land for peace” negotiated deal?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No one wants to see this conflict go on a moment longer than is necessary. We support a ceasefire, but it must be a sustainable ceasefire that will last. That means Hamas releasing hostages, but also no longer being able to threaten Israel with rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism. In the meantime, we will do everything we can to get more aid into Gaza.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

It is obvious that the longer the conflict in Gaza goes on, the more innocent civilian casualties there will be and the greater the risk of wider escalation in the region. Is it not the case that if the UK is to be seen as an honest broker, the Prime Minister, as well as rightly condemning Hamas, needs to call out Israel for clear breaches of humanitarian law and call for an immediate ceasefire? With actors such as China now calling for an international conference to set a timetable for a two-state solution, would it not be better if the UK were doing something constructive to get that two-state solution in place?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected. Too many civilians have been killed and, as I have made clear, Israel should do more to ensure that its campaign is targeted on Hamas leaders and their operatives.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

Farea Al-Muslimi, a research fellow at Chatham House, has argued that the attacks on Yemen will have the opposite effect of instigating a widened Houthi campaign, including attacks on US and UK installations across the Arabian peninsula. If the Houthi operations continue as they have done in the last couple of days, and if the UK and US military responses persist, what is the endgame? How much death and destruction is this country risking if we do not prioritise the cessation of military action not only in Yemen and the Red sea but, crucially, in Gaza, the west bank and Israel?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Lady talks about the cessation of military action in the Red sea, but it is the Houthis who are conducting illegal strikes on civilian shipping. To do nothing in the face of that would be to weaken our security and leave British interests and lives at risk.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

We have seen from earlier events in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere that military intervention by the United Kingdom and United States has resulted in destabilisation and subsequent civil wars, with massive loss of civilian life. What, if any, diplomatic efforts is the Prime Minister making to prevent this from happening in Yemen?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have pointed out, 14 countries signed a statement earlier this year calling on the Houthis to desist from what they were doing and saying that there would be consequences, and we have had a UN Security Council resolution condemning Houthi activity and noting the right of states to act in self-defence. That is what we did: we acted in a proportionate and necessary way following the direct threat to UK vessels and therefore to the UK itself.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities)

Many people are deeply worried about the escalation of hostilities and the growing instability across the region. There must be an accelerated determination to bring about an urgently needed ceasefire in Gaza and hostage release. If the bombing does not deter the awful actions of the Houthi rebels, what is the Prime Minister’s plan B?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said, in all cases there is a risk of inaction in the face of attacks on civilian lives and British interests, and it would have been wrong to do nothing. There has been extensive diplomatic activity and this military action was limited, proportionate, necessary and in self-defence. I believe that that was the right course of action, and to do nothing would have been wrong.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Prime Minister rightly said that we must condemn the Houthis and their illegal strikes on innocent civilians to protect the rule of law, so will he also condemn Israel’s illegal strikes against innocent civilians, including 10,000 dead children, to protect the self-same rule of law?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As I have said repeatedly, we are deeply concerned about the devastating impact of the fighting in Gaza on the civilian population. Too many people have lost their lives already and there is a desperate need to increase humanitarian support to Gaza. That is what we are doing, as well as calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and do everything it can to protect civilian life.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith

There is greater conflict in the middle east now than there has been for many years—in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as in Yemen, Israel and Palestine—much of it stoked by hostile actors. The Prime Minister has told us what his military response is, but what specific diplomatic initiative is he pursuing to promote Britain’s historic role to achieve peace in the middle east?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman will know that I was one of the first foreign leaders to visit the region after the attacks, and I met all the leaders from across the region, including all the Arab states and President Abbas from the Palestinian Authority. We are working with them to make sure they have the capability for a post-Gaza future and on how best to deliver that, as well as working with other Arab partners on increasing the supply of aid and to work towards a more peaceful long-term future.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Prime Minister is right to point to the consequences for all our constituents of the Houthis’ direct attacks on shipping. He is also right to talk about the dangers of inaction, but can I add my voice to those who have pointed to our inaction in this place towards the Islamic Revolutionary Guard? We now see the malign hand of Iran throughout the middle east, creating situation after situation. Does the Prime Minister not think the time has come to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We do not comment on proscription decisions, but I agree with the hon. Lady that the behaviour of the Iranian regime, including the IRGC, poses a significant threat to the safety and security of the UK and our allies. That is why we have sanctioned over 400 individuals, including the IRGC in its entirely. We have passed new laws such as the National Security Act to give us the powers we need to keep us safe, and we will continue to work closely with allies to make sure we implement the most effective ways of reducing Iran’s malign influence in the region.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Annibynnol, Dwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr

The Prime Minister has emphasised throughout this urgent statement that our action was not an act of escalation, but surely the key determinant of that is how it is perceived by forces in the middle east and by the wider Arab population. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt—countries we would not describe as anti-western in any way—have all expressed varying degrees of concern. Is the Prime Minister not worried that many of the key players in the region view the military action as escalatory?

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I do not believe that we can outsource our foreign policy to the perception in other countries. We should recognise the risks of inaction. To do nothing, as I said, would be to weaken international security and the rule of law. It would further damage freedom of navigation and the global economy, including for British families. Crucially, to do nothing would send a dangerous message that British vessels, British interests and British lives are fair game. That would be completely unacceptable, which is why it is right that we acted.