Shapps: RAF will continue strikes until Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping end

By David Lynch, Claudia Savage and Rhiannon James, PA

The UK and its allies will continue to defend against the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping as long as the militants continue their “barbaric behaviour”, Grant Shapps has said.

The Defence Secretary said early analysis indicated the RAF had “successfully struck” its eight targets in Yemen, which included sites being used for Houthi long-range drones – both for reconnaissance and attack missions.

The action over the weekend was the fourth time that a joint operation had been launched against the rebel group since January 12, though the action appears to have done little to deter Houthi attacks.

Making a statement to MPs, Mr Shapps told the Commons: “The Houthis could stop this barbaric behaviour any time they want. Instead, they callously choose to continue their reckless acts of aggression, causing harm not just to innocents, but to their own people in Yemen.

“Until they stop, we will continue to act, but the consensus continues to grow that the Houthis’ violations simply cannot continue, and that is why recently the European Union officially launched its Operation Aspides. Members will know that ‘Aspides’ meant ‘the shield’ in ancient Greece.

“We very much welcome the commitment of our international partners and our EU partners to join the work that has been going on, because no nation should ever be able to threaten the arteries of global commerce.”

Mr Shapps added the indiscriminate attacks by the Houthis on vessels “made a mockery” of the rebels’ claims their action was all about Israel.

He also pointed to an attack on a vessel called the Sea Champion, which he said “highlights the Houthis recklessness and near-sightedness”.

Mr Shapps said: “Considering that the Sea Champion had delivered humanitarian aid to Yemen 11 times in the past five years, and it was due to unload thousands of tonnes of much-needed aid to Yemen people through the ports of Aden and Hodeida, the Houthi attack was quite simply callous.”

The Defence Secretary said that intelligence analysis suggested the joint attacks on Saturday had been “successful”, and also told MPs: “I am pleased to say that it remains the case that to date, we have seen no evidence at all to indicate the RAF strikes cause civilian casualties, and the UN have noted that they have observed no civilian impact arising from the RAF strikes.

“Yet while we have eroded Houthi capacity, their intent to prosecute indiscriminate attacks against innocent vessels remains undiminished.”

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said Labour accepted the latest airstrikes were “legal, limited and targeted to minimise the risk of civilian casualties”.

He told the Commons: “The Houthis are threatening international trade and maritime security, they’re putting civilian and military lives in serious danger.

He added: “The Defence Secretary has said this afternoon that Houthi intent remains undiminished, so have deterring attacks now been dropped as one of the Government’s objectives for this military action?

“As the Defence Secretary says this was the fourth such operation since January 11. When does the Government judge this to be a sustained campaign, and at what stage does the Government think that Parliament needs a say?”

Mr Shapps responded: “We very much do intend these attacks on the Houthi infrastructure to be deterrents.

“I think it is plain to see that if they continue to do this then they themselves think that they can continue, so perhaps the emphasis is more on ensuring that not just they understand that there will be consequences and a price to pay, but actually perhaps other people controlling other waterways will understand that the world will not simply stand back and allow those things to happen.”

He added: “I should point out just generally to him that actually, he’s technically wrong, authority legally is signed off by the Defence Secretary, it’s part of royal prerogative so legally I have responsibility for these attacks although, as he rightly points out, the Prime Minister has in fact been to the House and carried out the first two of these statements.”