‘Urgent measures’ to protect British citizens as Middle East tensions escalate

Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for top general Qasem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman. Picture: Getty
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for top general Qasem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman. Picture: Getty
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The government is putting in place “urgent measures” to protect British nationals and interests amid rising tensions in the Gulf, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.

Mr Wallace said non-essential personnel had been moved out of Baghdad while Royal Navy warships and military helicopters were on heightened readiness to assist if needed.

Isn’t the truth that he’s scared to stand up to President Trump because he’s hitched his wagon to the prospect of a toxic Trump trade deal?

JEREMY CORBYN Labour leader

In a Commons statement, he again appealed for all sides to “de-escalate” in the wake of the killing of the Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.

At the same time he defended the right of the US to act in self-defence, saying General Soleimani had been in 
neighbouring Iraq when he was hit to “co-ordinate murder and attacks on US citizens”.

Ahead of a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the growing crisis, Mr Wallace said the safety and security of UK nationals and interests in the region were of “paramount concern”.

Non-essential personnel had been re-located from Baghdad to the military base at Camp Taji, north of the Iraqi capital, while the department of transport was reviewing its advice to British shipping on a daily basis.

“At the same time, defence are changing the readiness of our forces – including helicopters and ships on stand-by to assist if the need arises,” he said.

“As part of prudent planning, a small team has been sent to the region to provide additional situational awareness and contingency planning assistance.”

The government had already announced that the Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender and the Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose are to resume duties escorting shipping through the Straits of Hormuz.

In the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn demanded to know why Boris Johnson was not in the House to address MPs, accusing him of “hiding behind his Defence Secretary”.

“Isn’t the truth that he’s scared to stand up to President Trump because he’s hitched his wagon to the prospect of a toxic Trump trade deal?” he said.

“Instead, at this highly dangerous moment, we find the government giving cover and even expressing sympathy for what is widely regarded as an illegal act, because they’re so determined to keep in with President Trump.”

His comments come amid criticism that Mr Johnson had been slow to respond to the crisis, not returning 
from his new year break on the private Caribbean island 
of Mustique until the weekend.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he was continuing to talk to other world leaders and had “overseen the ministerial response” by the government.

“The PM leads a Cabinet government and the response to events in the Middle East is a collective Cabinet response,” the spokesman said.