Boris Johnson is due to return UK on Sunday amid mounting criticism over his refusal to cut short his Caribbean holiday to address soaring tensions in the Middle East.
The Prime Minister remained silent over the US’s fatal strike on Iran’s top general throughout his trip to the private island of Mustique to celebrate the New Year with his partner Carrie Symonds.
Mr Johnson was under mounting pressure from opposition leaders to make a statement on the killing of General Qassem Soleimani.
There were fears of all-out war after Iran threatened revenge over the Donald Trump-approved attack in Baghdad on Friday and as the US sent 3,000 extra troops to Kuwait.
The Foreign Office issued strengthened travel advice to Britons across the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while the Navy will begin accompanying UK-flagged ships through the key oil route of the Strait of Hormuz.
Meanwhile, military chiefs are understood to have ordered 400 soldiers training local forces in Iraq to scrap their duties to switch to “force protection” to defend themselves and British diplomats from revenge strikes.
A Government source defended Mr Johnson, saying “he’s been kept fully up to date” including by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “at all times”.
“And he will be meeting with ministers on Monday and speaking to foreign leaders over the next few days,” they said.
Mr Trump used Twitter on Saturday night to threaten to hit dozens of targets in Iran “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the killing of Soleimani.
Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Jeremy Corbyn said the “assassination” risks “an extremely serious escalation of a dangerous conflict with global consequences by a belligerent US president”.
I've written to Boris Johnson requesting an urgent Privy Council briefing and answers to questions following the US assassination of Qassem Suleimani. pic.twitter.com/kOw36b6Ex2
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) January 3, 2020
“Boris Johnson should have immediately cut short his holiday to deal with an issue that could have grave consequences for the UK and the world,” the outgoing Labour leader added.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who is running to lead Labour, asked “is he afraid of angering Trump?” in an article in The Observer.
Or, she added, “is it simply that, as he lounges in the Caribbean sun, he simply does not care” as she detail criticism of his track-recording, including the handling of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.
Mr Raab was expected to meet his French and German counterparts in the week before speaking to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Washington on Thursday.
The meeting, understood to have been arranged ahead of the strike, comes after Mr Pompeo criticised the UK’s response.
“Frankly, the Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well,” Mr Pompeo told Fox news.
Later, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace gave the strongest backing to the US despite urging “all parties” to de-escalate as he announced the Navy plan to protect UK ships and citizens.
After speaking to his US counterpart Mark Esper on Friday, Mr Wallace said American forces have been “repeatedly attacked by Iranian-backed militia” in Iraq during “the last few months”.
“General Soleimani has been at the heart of the use of proxies to undermine neighbouring sovereign nations and target Iran’s enemies,” Mr Wallace continued.
— Stop the War (@STWuk) January 4, 2020
“Under international law the United States is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to their citizens.”
Acting Lib Dem co-leader Sir Ed Davey added to criticism of the PM.
“Johnson’s silence on Trump’s dangerous assassination in Iraq is deafening,” Mr Davey said.
“The Prime Minister must speak out now and make clear Britain will not support the US in repeating the mistake of the Iraq war.”
Earlier in the day Labour’s John McDonnell vowed during an anti-war protest at Downing Street to press Mr Johnson over the attack, which will “set the Middle East and the globe alight yet again”.
“And it’s not good enough for the UK Government just to appeal for a de-escalation, what we expect the UK Government to do is to come out in total and outright condemnation of this act of violence,” the shadow chancellor said.