Yemen strikes: Rishi Sunak schedules debate on second Houthi attack, but denies MPs vote

The Labour Party claims it was not briefed ahead of fresh allied strikes against targets in Yemen.

Rishi Sunak has resisted calls to hold a vote on the air strikes on Houthi rebels after the Royal Air Force (RAF) joined a second bombing raid in Yemen.

Opposition parties demanded the UK Government give Parliament a say over military intervention following the latest strikes against Houthi rebels.

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The UK and the US carried out a fresh set of joint airstrikes in Yemen, with defence secretary Grant Shapps describing the move as “self-defence”, which would “deal another blow” to the Iranian-backed militants.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is being urged to hold a debate on the strikes in Yemen.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is being urged to hold a debate on the strikes in Yemen.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is being urged to hold a debate on the strikes in Yemen.

The Prime Minister later said he would allow for a “general debate” on the military intervention to take place in the Commons on Wednesday, but denied MPs a vote on the issue.

It follows seven rounds of airstrikes on Houthi military sites by the US in recent days and comes after the UK took part in an initial joint strike operation earlier this month.

Mr Sunak told MPs: “We are not seeking a confrontation. We urge the Houthis and those who enable them to stop these illegal and unacceptable attacks. But, if necessary, the United Kingdom will not hesitate to respond again in self defence.

“We cannot stand by and allow these attacks to go unchallenged. Inaction is also a choice.”

Four RAF Typhoons and a pair of Voyager tankers were involved in the latest action, with several targets hit at two military sites north of Yemen’s capital Sanaa. Mr Sunak said the strikes were aimed at sites which the Houthis use to support the attacks on shipping and “all intended targets were destroyed”.

The Houthis have been targeting shipping they claim is linked to Israel in the context of the conflict with Hamas. But the UK and allies have warned the attacks are indiscriminate and have included targeting Royal Navy and allied warships.

Responding, Sir Keir Starmer claimed Labour backed the “targeted action to reinforce maritime security in the Red Sea”, but would “judge further action on the Houthis on a case-by-case basis”.

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He told MPs: “The Houthi attacks must stop. They are designed to destabilise us, so we must stand united and strong. They bring danger to ordinary civilians who are working hard at sea, so we must protect them, and they aim to disrupt the flow of goods, food and medicines, so we must not let them go unaddressed.”

Downing Street insisted it was “acting in line with precedence” by not allowing MPs the chance to vote on whether they supported the strikes or not.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s important that parliamentarians are able to have their say, but we are acting in line with precedence. The powers to make a decision on this action rest with the Prime Minister.”

Earlier opposition MPs had urged ministers to debate the issue in Parliament, with the SNP accusing Rishi Sunak of “avoiding scrutiny”.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn called on ministers to reveal their “ultimate strategy” for dealing with conflict in the Middle East.

He said: “For all of us in this chamber, we do, of course, need to be mindful of the opponent that we face in this regard. The Houthis have been under almost constant bombardment from Saudi Arabia for the best part of eight years. They didn’t get that message, so why are we so confident that they will get our message this time around?”

Labour were also furious, demanding the Prime Minister make a statement in Parliament as soon as possible.

Shadow health minister Karin Smyth told GB News: “We don't know why the government hasn’t spoken to us on the usual terms. We would expect them to do that and we would certainly expect a statement by the Prime Minister today in Parliament, so we will await developments on that today.

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“We wait to hear from the Government and we do want to hear from them in Parliament and would expect to be briefed on the usual terms.”

The Liberal Democrats expressed “concerns” over the strikes, and called for a debate and vote.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey told the Commons: “Can I thank him [Mr Sunak] for agreeing that this House can debate this matter tomorrow, but will he not give the House the opportunity to vote on this matter, not least given the huge cross-party support there [is] for limited strikes, which surely strengthens the signal that he intends to give?”

Sir Ed said there had been “remarkably little clarity” about the government’s wider strategy in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister would not be drawn into backing calls for a vote, telling MPs: “I am pleased the House will have an opportunity to debate this tomorrow. But, as I said, we reserve the right to take action in a limited, proportionate and legal way in self-defence. That is the right thing and I think the country would expect nothing less from the government.”

Earlier foreign secretary Lord Cameron had downplayed the conflict, claiming the UK had “no quarrel with the Yemeni people”, but insisting action was needed to respond to the “indiscriminate” attacks by the Houthis.

He said: “What the Houthis are doing is unacceptable, it’s illegal and it’s threatening the freedom of navigation. That’s why we’ve taken the action.

“Alongside that action is a whole set of measures we’ll be taking, including sanctions and other pressure to put on the Houthis, combined, of course, with the action the Royal Navy is taking with others in the Red Sea. And we’ll be building the strongest coalition of support to back the steps that we’ve been taking.

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“Let’s be absolutely clear – we have no quarrel with the Yemeni people. Indeed, our aid feeds over 100,000 Yemenis every month – using the sea lane, delivering that aid, which is precisely the sea lane that the Houthis are trying to close.”



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