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File image of British prime minister Rishi Sunak PA
red sea

Sunak holds Cabinet call amid speculation of strikes against Houthi rebels over Red Sea attacks

It comes after UK and US naval forces destroyed ‘multiple attack drones’ deployed by Houthi rebels.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has held a Cabinet call this evening amid mounting speculation that UK and Western allies could take action against Houthi rebels following attacks in the Red Sea.

An emergency Cobra meeting is said to have taken place this morning followed by a meeting of the National Security Council, the Times reported.

Downing Street did not deny the reports.

The meeting was set to begin at around 7.45pm after Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned his message to the Iranian-backed group was “watch this space” if disruption continues in the key global shipping route.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron was seen entering No 10 shortly before 8pm.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow defence secretary John Healey will be briefed after the call, it is understood, while Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was seen arriving at the Cabinet Office.

The British Prime Minister used a conversation with the Egyptian president earlier on today to discuss the disruption and emphasise that Britain would continue to “take action to defend freedom of navigation and protect lives at sea”, No 10 said.

But Sunak is facing calls to recall Parliament if his government is preparing to take military action against Houthi rebels before Monday.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said: “If the UK plans to take military action, it’s vital there is a vote in Parliament.

“The Prime Minister must make arrangements for a recall of Parliament if strikes are planned before Monday.

“The Liberal Democrats are very concerned by Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. It’s destabilising for regional security and has a detrimental impact on cost of living in the UK too as ships are diverted.”

It comes after UK and US naval forces destroyed “multiple attack drones” deployed by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, believed to be the largest attack yet from the Yemen-based force.

UK Secretary of Defence Grant Shapps has warned further action would be taken if attacks persist, amid growing global concern about the disruption in the key global shipping route.

He also said he believed the Houthis, a Shiite group which has held Yemen’s capital since 2014, were acting with the support of Iran.

“Be in no doubt at all, Iran is guiding what is happening there in the Red Sea, providing them not just with equipment to carry out those attacks but also often with the eyes and ears to allow those attacks to happen,” he told Sky News.

“We must be clear with the Houthis, that this has to stop and that is my simple message to them today, and watch this space.”

The Royal Navy air defence destroyer HMS Diamond was involved in the response to the latest in a series of attacks, which the Houthis have claimed are a response to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Shapps also posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Overnight, HMS Diamond, along with US warships, successfully repelled the largest attack from the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea to date.

“Deploying Sea Viper missiles and guns, Diamond destroyed multiple attack drones heading for her and commercial shipping in the area, with no injuries or damage sustained to Diamond or her crew.

“The UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences.

“We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy.”

sea vipers The operations room of HMS Diamond preparing to fire her Sea Viper missiles PA PA

It remains to be seen what form any further action might take from the US, the UK and other allies.

There has been speculation that a response could involve strikes on the Houthi command centres.

Sunak’s spokesman told reporters yesterday: “I am not going to speculate about how we will or will not respond to continued attacks.

“We do reserve the right to take further steps to protect commercial shipping and avoid the risk of further destabilising the region. That is something we will keep under review.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Bahrain, renewed warnings of a response.

He said: “I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that might happen.

“All I can tell you again, we’ve made clear – we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries – that if this continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences. And I’m going to leave it at that.”

Some major shipping lines and oil giant BP have already diverted vessels around southern Africa, adding time and costs to journeys, rather than risk the Red Sea.

If the crisis continues, the increased costs could be passed on to consumers, hampering efforts to curb inflation and reduce interest rates.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said he was monitoring the situation closely when he appeared before MPs.

He told the Commons Treasury Committee: “We’ve certainly seen, as best we can tell from the monitoring, shipping traffic is being affected and is being rerouted. That will increase shipping prices and shipping costs. I think initially that will be an issue in the monetary policy world.

“I would say one of the things, fortunately, that hasn’t happened, is that we have not had a prolonged spike in oil prices.

“We had a bit of an initial spike and at the moment we’re seeing that, if anything, the oil price is actually coming down a bit, and there seems to be some price management to keep it there.”

US Central Command said the Houthis had launched a “complex attack” and a total of 18 attack drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile were shot down in the operation which involved Diamond, US warships and F/A-18 fighter jets.

It said the attack was the 26th Houthi attack on the Red Sea shipping lanes since 19 November.

It posted on X: “On Jan 9, at approximately 9.15pm (Sanaa time), Iranian-backed Houthis launched a complex attack of Iranian designed one-way attack UAVs (OWA UAVs), anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the southern Red Sea, towards international shipping lanes where dozens of merchant vessels were transiting.

“Eighteen OWA UAVs, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and one anti-ship ballistic missile were shot down by a combined effort of F/A-18s from USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS Gravely (DDG 107), USS Laboon (DDG 58), USS Mason (DDG 87), and the United Kingdom’s HMS Diamond (D34).

“This is the 26th Houthi attack on commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea since Nov 19. There were no injuries or damage reported.

The US-led Prosperity Guardian mission seeks to protect shipping using the vital Red Sea lanes which give access to the Suez Canal.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron told MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that Houthi attacks in the Red Sea which had come in the wake of the Gaza conflict were “unacceptable” in one of the “most important sea lanes”.

Press Association