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Action Against Houthi Maritime Attacks

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2024

Overnight, at my order, the Royal Air Force engaged in a second wave of strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen. We did so because we continue to see, for instance in intelligence, an ongoing and imminent threat from the Houthis to UK commercial and military vessels and to those of our partners in the Red sea and the wider region.

I told the House last week that we would not hesitate to respond if the acts continued, in order to protect innocent lives and preserve the freedom of navigation, and that is what we have done. We acted alongside the United States, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands. We acted on the same basis as on 11 January—fully in line with international law, in self-defence and in response to a persistent threat—and, and as with the first wave, the strikes were limited to carefully selected targets, with maximum care taken to protect civilian lives.

Attempting to counter every Houthi attack after it has been launched is simply not sustainable. We have already shot down dozens of missiles and drones targeted at civilian vessels and at the Royal Navy, and the Houthis have conducted at least 12 further attacks on shipping since 11 January, including just last night, shortly before our strikes were conducted. So we acted to further degrade their ability to mount such attacks.

Last week I gave the House our initial assessment of the first wave of strikes. Since then, we have seen further evidence that they were successful in degrading the Houthis’ military capability. Last night we hit two military sites just north of Sana’a, each containing multiple specific targets which the Houthis used to support their attacks on shipping.

I want to be very clear: 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. With that in mind, and given the persistent nature of the threat, it was important to update the House again today. I listened carefully to right hon. and hon. Members last week, and we will give the House a chance for a full debate on our broader approach in the Red sea tomorrow.

We took extensive steps to address this threat to international security before taking military action. We launched Operation Prosperity Guardian in December with over 20 other countries. The international community issued repeated statements on 1 December, 19 December, 3 January and 12 January condemning the attacks and urging the Houthis to desist. On 10 January, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding that they stop the attacks. I think it is important to note that the internationally recognised Government of Yemen have also condemned the Houthis for their actions, accusing them of

“creating a conflict for propaganda”

serving only their own selfish ends.

As we saw in the House last week, Members are rightly keen to hear how this situation can be brought to an end. The answer must include the vital right to self-defence when we are attacked, but that is only one part of our wider response, which I want to say more about today. First, we are increasing our diplomatic engagement, because we recognise the deep concerns about, and the complexities of, the current situation. I spoke to President Biden about these issues last night. The Foreign Secretary will be in the region in the coming days, and he met his Iranian counterpart last week. He made it clear that they must cease supplying the Houthis with weapons and intelligence and use their influence to stop Houthi attacks.

Secondly, we must end the illegal flow of arms to the Houthi militia. We have intercepted weapons shipments in the region before, including components of the very missiles used by the Houthis today. This brings home the importance of maritime security in the region, and it includes working closely with our allies and partners to disrupt and deter the supply of weapons and components.

Thirdly, we will use the most effective means at our disposal to cut off the Houthis’ financial resources, where they are used to fund these attacks. We are working closely with the US on this and plan to announce new sanctions measures in the coming days.

Fourthly, we need to keep helping the people of Yemen, who have suffered so terribly as a result of the country’s civil war. We will continue to deliver humanitarian aid and to support a negotiated peace in that conflict, not just because it is the right thing to do but because we need to show the people of Yemen that we have no quarrel with them—as the Yemeni Government understand. This is our strategy and we will keep all other tools under close review as well.

I repeat that there is no link between our actions of self-defence in the Red sea and the situation in Israel and Gaza. Those who make that link do the Houthis’ work for them, and I want to be clear that those here at home who glorify the Houthis’ attacks are glorifying terrorism, plain and simple. They will be met with a zero-tolerance approach. All of that said, I would like to address the situation in Israel and Gaza directly because it remains at the forefront of Members’ minds. President Biden and I discussed this again yesterday and he shares my deep concerns about the situation and the terrible suffering and loss of civilian lives, so together we are working to establish a new aid route through the port of Ashdod.

The UK wants to see an end to the fighting in Gaza as soon as possible. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to get aid in and hostages out, as a vital step towards building a sustainable, permanent ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. To achieve that, Hamas must agree to the release of all hostages. They can no longer be in charge of Gaza. The threat from Hamas terror and rocket attacks must end, and an agreement must be in place for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza to provide governance, services and security. That pathway to peace should unite the whole House. I believe we are also united in support of a two-state solution.

Through all the complexity of the current situation, our principles hold firm: resolute in the face of threats, compassionate in support of those in need, and determined in maintaining stability, security and the rule of law. That is what our allies and partners have come to expect from the United Kingdom, and that is what we stand for.

I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement.

Labour said that we will judge further action against the Houthis on a case-by-case basis, so let me be clear that we back this targeted action to reinforce maritime security in the Red sea. The Houthi attacks must stop. They are designed to destabilise us, so we must stand united and strong. They bring danger to ordinary civilians working hard at sea, so we must protect those civilians. And they aim to disrupt the flow of goods, food and medicines, so we must not let them go unaddressed.

The professionalism and bravery of those serving on HMS Diamond and flying RAF Typhoons are both totally accepted and completely remarkable. Without them, Britain cannot be a force for good in the world.

This is, of course, the second set of strikes in which the UK has participated. The stated aim of the first set was to deter and degrade Houthi capability, but we now know that their attacks have continued. While we do not question the justification for action, it is right that the House hears more about its effectiveness. Labour, of course, recognises that strikes can reduce threat without eliminating it, and we recognise that military action is just one component of a wider diplomatic strategy. None the less, I ask the Prime Minister to set out his confidence that these strikes will be effective in reducing Houthi capabilities. As the situation has evolved, although we of course understand the clear legal basis for these actions, will the Prime Minister commit to restating and republishing the Government’s legal position?

Alongside the UK and the US, other countries have provided non-operational support for these strikes and maritime protection in the Red sea. Many more support the United Nations Security Council resolution that utterly condemns the Houthi attacks. What work is being done to hold together that coalition and, if possible, to enlarge it? The action that the UK takes must draw on the support of all those who care about international law. Given the special role that the UK plays in Yemen, will the Prime Minister set out the concrete steps, in addition to those in his statement, that we are taking to help the people of Yemen who have suffered terribly as a result of that country’s civil war?

The international community cannot allow itself to be divided, which is exactly what the Houthi backers in Tehran would love to see. On that note, can the Prime Minister update the House on whether his Government have given further consideration to the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? We need every tool at our disposal to disrupt IRGC activities, and we must show Iran that it cannot pursue its ends by destabilising the entire region.

Like the Prime Minister, I totally reject the Houthi claims that attacking ships from around the world is somehow linked to the conflict in Gaza. These attacks do absolutely nothing for the Palestinian people. What is needed in Gaza is a humanitarian truce now, a sustainable ceasefire to stop the killing of innocent civilians, space for the return of all hostages, urgent humanitarian relief and a decisive step towards a two-state solution. Palestinian statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people; it is not in the gift of a neighbour. Does the Prime Minister agree that a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state is the only path to a just and lasting peace? We must stop those who sow division; we must do what we can to disrupt and deter the Houthis; and we must stay united and steadfast in defence of our values, our security and our right to self-defence. Labour will always act in the national interest, and we provide our full support for these necessary and proportionate strikes.

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his statement and his support—I am grateful to him for that. He raises all the right questions about the action today, which I am happy to answer.

First, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the effectiveness of strikes in deterring and precisely degrading capability. I am pleased to tell him that further evidence, after the initial statement I made last week, has demonstrated to us that the strikes last week were effective in degrading capability and all the intended targets were destroyed. I am also pleased to say that our initial evidence from last night’s strikes is also that all intended targets were destroyed, which demonstrates to us that, working with our allies, who have the same view, the strikes are working to degrade capability, even though, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, there may be a difference between reducing and eliminating. We are confident that what we are doing is working to degrade capability. The targets are specifically selected on the basis of intelligence; they are military sites that impact the security and safety of seafarers and shipping. To that end, I am confident that, as I said, the strikes are being carried out in a way that is effective in achieving their aim.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for acknowledging that the strikes sit within a wider strategy in the region to bring about an end to what we are seeing. The Foreign Secretary will be in the region this week, engaging extensively with our partners and allies on all the topics that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised, and particularly ensuring that we can continue to make progress on a sustainable peace in Yemen. No doubt the Foreign Secretary will talk to our Saudi partners about that and, crucially, broaden the coalition of support for the action we have taken.

As I pointed to in my statement, multiple statements have been made by a wide coalition of countries from around the world in support of action. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can rest assured that we are continuing to expand that coalition of support, because the security of navigation and shipping impacts all countries, wherever they might be, not just in the Red sea. All of us have seen the consequences of the war in Ukraine on energy bills across the European continent and beyond, so I think people are very alive to the interconnectedness of the global economy and the importance of protecting freedom of navigation everywhere.

On the legal advice, my understanding was that we had published or were imminently about to publish a summary of the legal advice—I can happily give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that confirmation. I can also confirm to him that the basis for action remains the same as it was last time, but an update to that effect has been published or will shortly be published by the Attorney General.

Lastly, I will touch on the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s broader point. He is right to highlight the malign influence of Iran in the region. Obviously, we do not comment on ongoing decisions or processes relating to the proscription of organisations, but he can rest assured that we are alive to the risk and working closely with our allies, particularly the United States and our European allies, to jointly work out the most effective way of countering that influence. As I have said, the Foreign Secretary spoke to his counterpart last week, and we will continue to use all measures at our disposal to protect ourselves. We passed the National Security Act 2023 here in the UK and have already sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety.

More generally, on the specific action we have taken, I again thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. We have taken limited, proportionate and, I believe, necessary action in self-defence. We will always reserve the right to do that to protect innocent lives and freedom of navigation. Our desired outcome, of course, is for the Houthis to desist and to de-escalate the situation. What they are doing is unacceptable and illegal, and the onus should be on them to stop it. But we will use all levers at our disposal, including diplomacy and sanctions, to achieve that objective.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend says about diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, and indeed cutting off the supply of arms. I particularly welcome what he says about the effectiveness of the strikes that have already taken place. However, does he agree that in order to protect civilian shipping, this may need to be a prolonged and persistent targeted campaign alongside our allies?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I want to be absolutely clear that no decision has been taken to embark on a sustained campaign of the nature that he mentioned—these were limited strikes, specifically in response to threats that we perceived—but we do reserve the right to take action in self-defence, as I have said. Crucially, the military action is just one part of a broader strategy, including diplomacy, sanctions and other things; we will use all levers to bring about an end to the disruption and the illegality that the Houthis are causing.

Freedom of navigation is not a choice: it is a necessity, not least because of the impact there could be on all the people we are very fortunate to represent. As such, as a point of principle it is fair for the Government to use proportionate and robust action to defend that right to freedom of navigation. However, all of us in this Chamber 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 did not get that message, so why are we so confident that they will get our message this time around?

That, of course, leads to the wider question: what is the ultimate strategy going forward, in relation not just to the Houthis but to the wider region? Over the past week, we have seen missile strikes in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria and, of course, Yemen. In the meantime, we continue to see the complete destruction of Gaza and, of course, Hamas continue to obtain hostages. We need to understand the Government’s strategy to calm waters not just in the Red sea but right across the region. Surely that must begin with a ceasefire in Gaza.

As difficult as the situation is, to do nothing would also be a choice. I believe that would be the wrong choice because it would be tantamount to ceding control of a global, economically vital shipping route to a dangerous militant group that is backed by Iran, and it would put innocent lives at risk. The hon. Gentleman is right that the military action should sit within a broader strategy, which hopefully he can tell from my statement we are engaged in on all fronts.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Israel and Gaza, as I have made clear, no one wants to see this conflict go on for a moment longer than necessary. An immediate pause is necessary to get aid in and hostages out—that is what we have been calling for. The best outcome will be moving from that pause to a sustainable ceasefire, but, as I was clear about in my statement, a number of things need to happen for that to be possible, including the release of all the hostages by Hamas, Hamas no longer being in charge in Gaza and an agreement for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza to provide governance. That is a conversation we have been having, and we will continue to push for that, because I believe that will be the best outcome and it is one that is widely supported by, I would imagine, everyone in this House.

Just to help the House, some people were late, and we are only going to run this for an hour, so please try to help each other by being as quick as you can. I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

I welcome the airstrikes, which were conducted solely to re-establish freedom of maritime movement. However, there are a number of Iranian proxies and allied groups operating across the middle east, and the hand of Iran is clear in their activities. Iran is the fundamental threat to UK security and to stability in the region. What is the strategic approach and intent to comprehensively reduce the threat that we face from all the proxies and allies, so that we do not end up playing whack-a-mole? Have we seen any opportunism from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Daesh, who are also on the ground in Iran? Finally, as the Prime Minister touched on Gaza-Israel, please may I reiterate my request for the UK to launch a contact group for Palestine, so that we can launch track 2 negotiations to get some progress towards stability and a two-state solution?

The behaviour of the Iranian regime, including the actions of the IRGC, poses a significant threat to the safety and security of the United Kingdom and our allies, particularly given Iran’s direct threats against people here in the UK, as well as its destabilising influence in the region. We are alive to the threat, which is why we have already sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals, including the IRGC in its entirety. The National Security Act 2023 provides new measures for our police and security services to counter the hostile influence that we see.

The Foreign Secretary spoke to his Iranian counterpart last week, and we will continue that diplomacy this week. As I pointed out in my statement, we have previously interdicted the supply of Iranian missiles being smuggled to the Houthis, last year and the year before. We need to ensure that we work with our allies to do that, because the flow of those weapons to the Houthis is critical to their ability to carry out these attacks. Working with our allies, we should try to do everything we can to stop that.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. As I made clear last week, the Liberal Democrats accept the case for limited strikes against the Houthis, as long as they remain limited. As the Prime Minister updates the House for the second time on this matter, there is remarkably little clarity about what the next steps are and when the UK’s objectives will be judged to have been fulfilled. Nor has the Prime Minister sufficiently addressed how he plans to avoid regional escalation in this most fragile of regions. I thank him for agreeing that the 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 for limited strikes? That would surely strengthen the signal he intends to give.

What is escalatory is the Houthis ramping up attacks on commercial shipping, launching missiles and drones against US and UK warships, and threatening allied bases in the region. I have been very clear that military action was a last resort. We provided warning after warning, including with allies and at the UN Security Council. The Houthis had, and continue to have, the ability to prevent this by stopping their illegal attacks. As I pointed out earlier, there are also risks to inaction because it would damage international security and the global economy, and send a message that British vessels, lives and interests are fair game, none of which I think is acceptable.

I am pleased that the House will have an opportunity to debate the matter 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 the country would expect nothing less from the Government.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and action. On the issue of Iran, can he say what contingency planning has been done in the eventuality that Houthi attacks in the Red sea are followed up by IRGC attacks in the Persian gulf?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out the link between Iran and the Houthis. We are alive to that and I discussed it with President Biden last night. My right hon. Friend will know that we have assets in the region and we are working closely with our allies to ensure maritime security, whether that is by interdicting arms or more generally ensuring the freedom of navigation. Diplomacy will also have to play a part, which is why the Foreign Secretary’s conversations with his Iranian counterpart are so important, but we remain alive to the risks and will do everything we can to reduce them.

The Prime Minister is right that to do nothing is not an option, but to do something there needs to be a strategy. If the attacks continue and there is continued disruption to maritime trade, does he have a plan B?

That is why we are working extensively with our allies, broadening the international coalition of support condemning the Houthis’ behaviour, and putting pressure on them in all different ways. It is important that military action is not seen in isolation: it sits alongside wider diplomatic and economic strategies. As I said, we will bring forward new sanctions measures, together with our allies, in the coming days.

I express my full support for the action that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has approved. Will he extend his strategic objectives, because it seems that this threat will remain so long as the Houthis have a safe haven to operate from? It is a question of how we deal with that part of Yemen, which is effectively an ungoverned space.

It is clear that the Houthis’ behaviour is damaging the people of Yemen. We have talked previously about the importance of the supply of food into Yemen, but the destruction of oil infrastructure also deprives the Yemeni people of key revenue. These are all topics with which we are engaged with our Saudi partners. We very much support the negotiations. As my hon. Friend knows, a deal was announced in December. We would like to see a lasting peace and security for the Yemeni people for an inclusive political settlement, and I can assure him that, diplomatically, we are working very hard to achieve that aim.

The Prime Minister rightly states that the majority of this House supports a two-state solution to bring a lasting peace, but that is clearly not shared by the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, members of his far- right Cabinet, or the Israeli ambassador to the UK, who openly advocated genocide on the UK airwaves. They have all rejected an independent state of Palestine. Will the Prime Minister make it clear to the Israeli Prime Minister that he condemns his comments, which stand in the way of peace? Will he also condemn the vile comments of the Israeli ambassador, who labelled every building in Gaza as a legitimate target for the Israeli military?

The Foreign Secretary will be in the region this week and will reiterate what I have said publicly and from this Dispatch Box: we are absolutely committed to a two-state solution. We believe that is the right outcome for the people in the region. We want Palestinians and Israelis to be able to live side by side in peace, security and dignity, and we will redouble our efforts to bring about that outcome.

Yemen is a complex, war-torn and troubled country that has never really settled since the north and south united in 1990. Today, the civil war means that two thirds of the population require humanitarian support. When I was Minister for the middle east, I spent a lot of time with the United Nations, the US and Gulf nations trying to build a suitable governance and security framework. Does the Prime Minster agree that, unless our attention on Yemen includes not only removing the immediate threat in the Red sea, but a fresh and more cognitive approach to resolving the longer-term governance issues in this troubled country, the threat will remain?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his previous efforts. As he knows, we are a penholder on Yemen in the UN, and we continue to use our diplomatic and political influence to support UN efforts to bring about that lasting peace to Yemen for an inclusive political settlement. The British people can be proud of what we are doing to support the Yemeni people from a humanitarian perspective. We have committed more than £1 billion in aid since the conflict began in 2014. I believe that this year we will be the fourth or fifth largest donor to the UN’s appeal.

What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the risks if the Houthis move to a different part of Yemen, and how many civilian casualties have there been so far?

I am pleased to say that all our intelligence suggests that there were no civilian casualties from the strikes that we conducted last week, and that will of course have been our intention this time. We are very careful to take the time to pick the targets and minimise any civilian casualties and impacts. As I have said, we believe that there were none last time, and we have no evidence to suggest that there were any this time, but of course that is just an initial assessment.

I thank the Prime Minister for the update and the continued humanitarian aid to Yemen. I totally agree with the action that he has taken to protect shipping. However, can he tell me what truth there is in the rumours that the Houthis may become a proscribed terrorist organisation, as that would have a major impact on any humanitarian aid sent to Houthi-controlled territories, which includes about 70% of the population?

As my hon. Friend will know, we do not comment on proscription processes or decisions on any group, so she will appreciate that there is not much that I can say on that. Just to clarify, it is worth pointing out that the United States has designated the Houthi group as “a specially designated terrorist group”, which is different from full proscription.

At the moment, we see Houthi attacks continuing, the Popular Mobilisation Units attacking US bases in Syria, and Hezbollah in a low-level war with Israel in Lebanon. Yesterday in Gaza 24 members of the Israeli military were killed, and 24,000 Palestinians have died—[Interruption.] It is now 25,000, we are told. This morning we heard how a doctor is amputating children’s limbs in Gaza without anaesthetics. Does the Prime Minister not realise that, without an immediate ceasefire, any hope of a strategy succeeding will fail, and that the Netanyahu Cabinet has now become an obstacle to peace, rather than a partner in peace?

As I have said, no one wants to see the conflict in Gaza go on for a moment longer than is necessary. An immediate pause is now needed to get aid in and hostages out. The best outcome will be moving from that pause to a sustainable ceasefire, but that sustainable, permanent ceasefire does require a set of conditions for it to be truly sustainable and permanent, and that involves the release of all hostages and Hamas having no role in Gaza, particularly to fire rockets continually into Israel. That is the sustainable ceasefire that we are pushing for.

As my right hon. Friend can see, we will always back up our words with action. We have been clear that we will not tolerate risk to innocent lives and British interests in the region. We will take action where necessary in a limited and proportionate way, in compliance with international law and in self-defence. That is what we did last week and what we have done this week, and we will always reserve the right to do so in order to protect British lives and interests.

It is clear that the “Partisans of God”—the Houthi militia—are fascist and racist. They are backed by fascists and racists in Tehran. Further to earlier questions—this has been asked time and again from both sides of the House—may I ask when we will get around to fully proscribing the IRGC?

As I have said previously, we do not routinely comment on groups that we may or may not be considering for proscription, but we have taken significant action against the IRGC, including sanctioning them in their entirety and passing new laws here at home to make sure that we can protect ourselves. Critically, we are working with our allies so that we can jointly determine what is the most effective way to combat the risk that Iran poses to us.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on a robust response—the right to navigate is indisputable—but the damage has already been done. Tankers are avoiding the Gulf of Aden, the Red sea and the Suez canal. Freight rates are now soaring and the impact of that on European refineries is likely to be significant. Can the Prime Minister say more about what will be done for armed convoys and how we will restore confidence that people and vessels will be able to navigate that stretch of water?

The Transport Secretary has been engaging extensively with the industry. My hon. Friend will have seen the statements from leading shipping companies after last week’s strike, saying that they welcomed action being taken to restore security. I also point him to Operation Prosperity Guardian, a coalition of more than 20 countries. More are now sending assets into the region to ensure the safety of all civilian and commercial shipping through the Red sea. It is a critical economic strait, but there is also a principle at stake, which we must defend.

The war in Gaza and the situation in the middle east are worsening every day. We know that more than 25,000 people have been killed, including 10,000 children, not to mention about 135,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition. We know that the only way to de-escalate the violence in Gaza and the crisis in the Red sea is by securing an immediate ceasefire—not a pause, but an immediate ceasefire. Why will the Prime Minister not commit to calling for this, so that we can see an end to this humanitarian catastrophe and the killing of innocent children?

I point the hon. Lady to my previous comments on that topic, but I will also just highlight that we have trebled our aid commitment for this financial year. We are working with partners in the region to increase the amount of aid going into the region. I discussed that with President Biden yesterday, because we recognise the humanitarian impact that the conflict is having. The UK is playing a leading role in getting more humanitarian aid into the region. As I have said, right now we will work with the Americans on opening up Ashdod so that we have a new maritime corridor to increase the flow.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank the Prime Minister for his resolute work, including the wider update on humanitarian aid and work to release hostages. Families of hostages and those hostages released will be suffering unconscionable long-term psychological trauma. Can we, in addition to physical aid, look at providing psychological support and expertise from the UK wherever it is needed for all those so gravely impacted?

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent point. Like her, I have spent time with hostage families, including just yesterday, and she is right about the trauma that they are experiencing. Every family that we are in contact with will have dedicated support from the Foreign Office to provide them with what they need, and I will continue to ensure that the issue she raises gets the attention it deserves. She highlights the importance of pauses and ceasefires to ensuring the unconditional release of all the hostages. They and their families are undergoing something that no one would wish to have happen to them, and it is important that we prioritise them in all these conversations.

I and many others will be disappointed at the Prime Minister’s failure to condemn the increasingly violent and extreme language by Netanyahu and his Ministers, and I invite him again to do so. The Prime Minister said 10 days ago that the airstrikes against Houthi targets would send a clear message. The Foreign Secretary said this morning that more strikes send the clearest message. Can the Prime Minister tell us where that will end, given that the only message actually being received in the region, whether he likes it or not, is about the UK’s failure to back an end to the suffering in Gaza?

She is right: it is the Houthis who are doing that, and it is right that we call that out as being wrong, as the Government of Yemen themselves have done. It is absolutely right that we take necessary and proportionate action in self-defence against risk to British lives and interests. That is what we did last week and what we have done this week, and we will always reserve the right to do so. In parallel and separately, we are also doing everything we can to bring about more aid into Gaza and a sustainable ceasefire there that involves a release of hostages and the end of Hamas’s hostilities.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and actions of self-defence against the Houthis as the right thing to do. Over the past 24 hours, the BBC has carried reports that senior IRGC generals have made extremist speeches to United Kingdom students that are riddled with antisemitism and the promotion of violence. This radicalisation simply must stop. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to end IRGC infiltration in the United Kingdom? While I fully acknowledge that he will not comment on proscription at the Dispatch Box, will he at least acknowledge the strength of feeling on both sides of the House and across the political divide for the proscription of the IRGC, which is behind so much of the violence in the region, including the barbaric attacks of 7 October and the continuing attacks in the Red sea?

I first stress that it is an absolute priority to protect the UK against foreign interference, and we will use all available levers to do that. On the particular matter my hon. Friend raises about those reports, I know the Charity Commission has opened an ongoing compliance case into trusts linked to the Kanoon Islamic centre, so it is right that that investigation happens properly. More broadly, universities have a duty to prevent people being drawn into terrorism, and where there is evidence that universities are failing in that duty, I am happy to reassure him that the Government will not hesitate to intervene to ensure that the right steps are taken.

I, too, share concerns about what the strategy is, what the contagion to the rest of the middle east will be, and the possibility that might be bolstering the Houthis’ position in Yemen. Can I ask the Prime Minister about a constituent’s partner, who I mentioned to the Leader of the House last Thursday? He has been awaiting evacuation from south Gaza for a number of months. He has now suffered a broken leg and is receiving no healthcare. I urge the Prime Minister to liaise with the Israeli and Egyptian authorities for his immediate evacuation—it cannot carry on.

I am very happy to do that, and I will follow up with the Leader of the House on the hon. Lady’s case.

The threat to maritime shipping in the Red sea is from not just Houthi missiles, but the threat of cyber-attacks often coming from Iranian proxies. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need to strengthen the cyber-resilience of our maritime partners, to ensure that they are not susceptible to the threat of cyber-attack, which may disable them and cause multiple problems?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and that is why we previously created and funded the National Cyber Security Centre, on which our allies respect us for showing global leadership. His point is well made, and I will ensure that we are spreading our best practice to allies in the region.

The key to addressing violence is to address the root cause, not just its manifestations. The Red sea is inextricably linked to the events in Gaza. Rather than bombing the Houthis, who have been bombed for a decade by Saudi Arabia with the best military equipment that Britain and America could sell to it, is it not time that we supported South Africa and other countries at the International Court of Justice in addressing the root cause, which is the genocide unfolding in Palestine?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, and we disagree with what South Africa has brought to the ICJ and do not believe that it is helpful. I also disagree with him that those two things are linked. The Houthis have carried out attacks on multiple ships from different countries, many of which have nothing to do with the situation in Israel and Gaza. As the Government of Yemen themselves have pointed out, the attacks have nothing to do with that situation, which the Houthis are using as propaganda for their own selfish ends.

The Prime Minister has referred to the international support for the actions in the Red sea, but why have only US and UK forces actually taken part in them?

We also received support from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Bahrain in these strikes, as we did last time. I point the right hon. Gentleman to the statements that have been put out previously by over a dozen countries, including New Zealand, Korea, Singapore and others, and also to the UN Security Council resolution from 10 January, which was unequivocal in condemning the Houthi attacks and acknowledging the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels from attacks.

We now have 25,000 dead. There are still 130 hostages. My extended family are still trapped. While we want to have hope, I dare say that it has now turned to complete despondency. The Prime Minister will have heard with dismay, I am sure, the words of Netanyahu when he said that he is categorically against two states. That echoes the equally awful words of Hamas, who say the same thing. Does the Prime Minister not agree that what we have here are the extremes of the debate? What words of hope does he have to offer those voices in Israel, Palestine and beyond who cling on desperately for the light in this darkness?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and comments. I agree that we are committed to a two-state solution, because that is the only way we can bring about a future where Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side with the security they deserve, with dignity and with opportunity. The events of the last few months remind us that we must redouble our efforts to bring about that outcome. I remain confident, because of the engagement that we are having, that we can make progress on that aim.

The Prime Minister said, “We urge the Houthis, and those who enable them, to stop these illegal and unacceptable attacks.” He then spoke only about Iran in terms of those who enable them. Who else is enabling the Houthis, and what action are the UK and its allies taking to stop them and their supply of weapons and other support to the Houthis?

I particularly mentioned Iran with good reason, because it is one of the primary suppliers of weapons to the Houthis. That is why in the past we have interdicted those shipments. Iran’s behaviour remains of primary concern to us. It is the significant destabilising actor in the region, and it will continue to be a focus of our diplomatic efforts. More broadly, we want to see peace and stability in the region across the board. Diplomatically and otherwise, we will work hard to bring that about.

Further violence will not achieve peace. Aid agencies are warning that the UK and the US continuing to bomb Yemen is threatening civilian populations and inhibiting humanitarian assistance reaching millions who are already enduring starvation. Instead of escalating risks to civilian populations in the region, why can the Prime Minister not just support the growing and increasing calls internationally for an immediate ceasefire in Israel-Gaza, an end to the bloodshed in Gaza and an end to the attacks on Yemen, and call for peace, justice and human rights?

Again, I would not draw a link between the action in the Red sea and the situation in Gaza. They are two completely different things. The Houthis may seek to link them, but we should not pander to that narrative. We have been in touch with our non-governmental organisation partners, and they have confirmed no significant disruption to humanitarian efforts following our airstrikes. We help feed around 100,000 Yemenis every single month. Again, I would urge the hon. Lady to recognise that the Houthis’ activities actually damage the Yemeni people, who are entirely reliant on food coming in through those shipping lanes.

The Prime Minister sketched out some of the Government’s view on terms for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza. What steps are the Government taking to discuss with other states—particularly with friendly states—a long-term peace plan for the region, including a two-state solution, to ensure that we make real progress towards that objective?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are having exactly that conversation with all our partners and allies in the region. I started that dialogue when I visited the region towards the end of last year, the Foreign Secretary will be in the region again this week, and it is something that President Biden and I have discussed. I believe that we are aligned on the future that we all want to see for the people of Israel and Gaza, and now we will work constructively with our allies to try to ensure that that can happen.

May I press the Prime Minister a little more on Palestine? Although he was right to say in his statement that President Biden and he are united in support of a two-state solution, he will be acutely aware that the person who is likely to be President Biden’s main challenger in November’s election is almost certainly not in favour of a two-state solution, and neither is the Israeli Prime Minister. What are the Prime Minister and the British Government doing to use this narrow window of opportunity to push for that two-state solution?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answer. We are absolutely committed to a two-state solution and will work very hard with all our allies to make progress towards that aim.

Yemeni analyst Hisham Al-Omeisy is no friend of the Houthis—they took him hostage some time ago—but he has been raising concerns about the way in which these blunt military actions will play into the Houthi narrative against America and the UK. How does the Prime Minister intend to challenge that political narrative and ensure that the Yemeni people do not play into Houthi hands because of the action that he is taking?

As I say, we are in dialogue with the Yemeni Government, and they are doing their best to counter the narrative that the hon. Lady mentions. Also, I would not characterise these as “blunt” strikes; they are actually very deliberate and careful targeted strikes on military sites, minimising the impact on civilians. We will continue to ensure that that point is heard loud and clear.

The Houthis have already said that we should “expect a response” to the strikes. Benjamin Netanyahu’s words have further inflamed things, jeopardising opportunities for peace between Israel and Palestine. There have been attacks in Pakistan by Iran. Clearly, the situation is escalating. We need all partners to collaborate as best we can if we are to secure a ceasefire, end the attacks on shipping and get that two-state solution. The Prime Minister has talked about talking to our allies. Will he set out the conversations that he has had with colleagues in the European Union, which has its own peace initiative in the region, and where does he think that will get to?

I speak regularly to colleagues across Europe, including speaking to the Belgian Prime Minister just this morning. We will work with all our allies on these issues, as we have done in the past and will continue to do. I believe that we are all united on the outcome we want to see, which is a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side with peace, security and dignity.

I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and his clear, firm stance—it is good to have that. What steps will he take to further secure safe passage for shipping companies, which have been forced to increase the price of shipping in order to enhance their protection? Even Church missions in my constituency sending humanitarian containers to Eswatini in southern Africa are paying increased prices for containers. What else can be done to alleviate not only this international affront but the direct impact on our constituents, who are already struggling with increased prices and stagnant wages?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the economic impact of attacks on shipping on everyone here at home and across the world. There is a meaningful economic cost to container ships rerouting around the Cape of Good Hope. That is an important reason why we must have freedom of navigation and it demonstrates why it is right that we take action. Prosperity Guardian is the operation providing more maritime security in the area.

To follow up on the Prime Minister’s comments on Gaza, 25,000 people have now been killed there, so is it not time that our Government did more than express sympathies and instead used their diplomatic power to prevent more deaths there, starting with a UN Security Council motion calling for an immediate ceasefire and ending arms sales to Israel?

Our actions are clear: we have trebled our aid commitment this year, we are doing everything we can to open more crossings, and recently we worked to deliver a new humanitarian land corridor from Jordan into Gaza, with 750 tonnes of lifesaving food and aid arriving on its first delivery. We can be proud of the impact that we are having, but of course, there is more to do, and that is why we will continue to have those conversations to get more aid in.

The Prime Minister says that he supports a two-state solution. That requires his Government to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. When will he do that?

The position of this Government is the same as that of previous Governments and is long-standing: we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that best serves the peace process.

There are 21 million people starving and in desperate need of food and aid in Yemen. How will the Prime Minister ensure that the military action taken by the British Government does not impede that desperately needed humanitarian support?

I refer the hon. Lady to my previous answer. In fact, the Houthis’ disruption of Red sea shipping is harming the Yemeni people, who are relying on those corridors to bring aid in. As I said, we are the fourth or fifth largest donor to the UN appeal this year, we have contributed £1 billion since the conflict began in 2014, and we are currently helping to feed 100,000 people in Yemen every month.

It will surely be of great concern that the Royal Navy is now almost too small to carry out its many responsibilities, including those that the Prime Minister has told us about today. Can he assure the House that that important issue will be placed at the top of the agenda at the next defence review?

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that the MOD is receiving significant extra funds—£24 billion at the last spending review, and billions of pounds since—to rebuild stockpiles and ensure the sustainability of our defence nuclear enterprise. In particular, the Royal Navy has a very ambitious capital programme. As he can see, it has successfully carried out the operations that we need it to carry out, and it deserves our thanks and praise for its work.

The Prime Minister spoke about maritime security in the region, particularly in relation to stemming illegal arms getting into Yemen. How will the UK’s ability to contribute to wider maritime security be affected by considerations of decommissioning HMS Westminster and HMS Argyll after multimillion-pound refits, and when will we make a final decision on whether to mothball HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark?

As the hon. Gentleman can see, we absolutely have the capabilities and personnel we need to contribute to allied operations such as Prosperity Guardian, and to take action in self-defence, as we have done. We will always ensure that our armed forces have the investment that they need, and under this and previous Governments they have continued to receive very significant investment, which is set to rise in the years ahead.