Rishi Sunak briefed ministers on military action against Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeting ships in the Red Sea.
The Prime Minister held an emergency Cabinet call on Thursday night after repeated warnings by the US and UK to the Houthi rebels in Yemen to stop the attacks on commercial vessels.
In talks with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi a few hours earlier, the Prime Minister stressed that Britain would “continue to take action to defend freedom of navigation and protect lives at sea”.
The UN Security Council had already passed a resolution telling the Houthi rebels to stop the attacks.
But then they launched another air strike on a Red Sea vessel, according to US military chiefs.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were understood to have been briefed on Thursday night on the Government’s military plan.
Secretary Grant Shapps warned to “watch this space” on Wednesday after the Houthi rebels launched their biggest barrage of missile and drone attacks on commercial vessels yet.
Earlier on Thursday former Royal Navy chief Admiral Lord West said the US and UK would act to make it clear to the Houthi rebels that they will not be allowed to continue disrupting shipping trade.
He told TalkTV that strikes into Yemen could target “places where they’re firing missiles from where we know they’re constructing and putting these together on helicopters and things so they can’t get out to ships and also on their patrol crafts”.
HMS Diamond and US fighter jets and warships shot down the biggest barrage of drone and missile attacks yet by the Houthi rebels earlier this week.
A senior British ambassador said she would not “stand by” and allow the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to target commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
Dame Barbara Woodward, the UK’s ambassador at the United Nations, stressed that “all diplomatic means possible” were being used to stop the drone and missile strikes.
Speaking after the huge wave of attacks by the Houthi rebels yet, she said: “We will not stand by and allow the Houthis to threaten civilian vessels and hold global food and energy supplies hostage.
“As previously stated by the UK Defence Secretary, we will not hesitate to take further action to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.”
Downing Street on Wednesday declined to commit to a vote in Parliament before any air strikes were launched on the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
The UN Security Council is demanding an immediate halt to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on ships in the Red Sea in a resolution adopted on Wednesday that implicitly condemned their main weapons supplier, Iran.
The resolution, sponsored by the United States and Japan, was approved by a vote of 11-0 with four abstentions – Russia, China, Algeria and Mozambique.
It condemns “in the strongest terms” at least two dozen attacks carried out by the Houthis on merchant and commercial vessels, which the resolution says are impeding global commerce and undermining navigational freedom.
The Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally-recognised government since 2014, have said they launched the attacks with the aim of ending Israel’s devastating air-and-ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
In the past day, the Houthis fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting shipping in the Red Sea, which the US and British navies shot down in a major naval engagement.
HMS Diamond is understood to have downed seven drones.
Last week the US and 12 other countries issued a statement calling for the immediate end of Houthi attacks and warning that further attacks would require collective action.
“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” they said.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States knows Iran is involved in planning Houthi attacks, and while it isn’t seeking a confrontation with Tehran, “Iran also has a choice: to continue providing or withhold its support for the Houthis, without which the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike vessels through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden”.
Immediately before the vote, the council overwhelmingly rejected three proposed Russian amendments. At least nine “yes” votes and no veto are needed in the 15-member Security Council for approval of an amendment or a resolution. Two of the proposed amendments got just four “yes” votes and one got five.
The United States and United Kingdom both voted against all three amendments, but their vetoes didn’t count because the amendments failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.
The Red Sea links the Mideast and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal, and its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Nearly ten per cent of all oil trade and an estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually.
But the Houthi attacks have forced many shipping companies to bypass this route and use the much longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.
The resolution affirms that “the exercise of navigational rights and freedoms by merchant and commercial vessels, in accordance with international law, must be respected.”