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Rishi Sunak holding full Cabinet over potential strike after Houthi Red Sea attacks

Rishi Sunak holding full Cabinet over potential strike after Houthi Red Sea attacks

Rishi Sunak is holding a full Cabinet call on Thursday evening amid mounting speculation that UK and Western allies could take action against Houthi rebels following attacks in the Red Sea.

The meeting was set to begin at around 7.45pm after defence secretary Grant Shapps had warned the Iranian-backed group to “watch this space” if disruption continues in the key global shipping route. Foreignsecretary Lord David Cameron was seen entering No 10 shortly before 8pm.

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

The prime minister used a conversation with the Egyptian president earlier on Thursday 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.

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

Rishi Sunak will reportedly hold a full Cabinet call on Thursday evening (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak will reportedly hold a full Cabinet call on Thursday evening (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr 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 Shia 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,” Mr Shapps 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.

Mr 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.”

The Royal Navy air defence destroyer HMS Diamond has destroyed
The Royal Navy air defence destroyer HMS Diamond has destroyed "multiple attack drones" deployed by Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea (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.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters on Wednesday: “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.”

Houthi supporters shout slogans as they attend a ceremony at the end of the training of newly recruited fighters in Sanaa (REUTERS)
Houthi supporters shout slogans as they attend a ceremony at the end of the training of newly recruited fighters in Sanaa (REUTERS)

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.

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 November 19.

Lord 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”.