LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was due to face Parliament Monday to explain why the U.K. joined the U.S. in striking Houthi targets in Yemen — and why British lawmakers did not get a say on the military action.
Four Royal Air Force Typhoon jets took part in last week’s U.S.-led strikes on sites used by the Iran-backed rebels, who have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea. The U.S. says Friday’s strikes hit Houthi weapons depots, radar facilities and command centers.
The Houthis say they have targeted ships linked to Israel in response to the war in Gaza. But they have frequently attacked vessels with no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.
U.S. forces carried out another strike Saturday on a Houthi radar site.
British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said Monday that Friday’s strikes had been intended “as a single action” rather than part of a campaign, but did not rule out U.K. participation in further military strikes.
“We will now monitor very carefully to see what (the Houthis) do next, how they respond and we will see from there,” he said.
Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, said he supported last week’s strikes but expects more openness from the government in future.
“If the government is proposing further action, then it should say so and set out the case, and we’re going to have to consider that on a case-by-case basis on the merits,” he said.
The smaller opposition Liberal Democrats accused the government of “riding roughshod over a democratic convention” that Parliament should get a vote on military action.
“For Rishi Sunak to attempt to ignore elected representatives is disgraceful,” Liberal Democrat defense spokesman Richard Foord said.
Sunak’s government is facing mounting demands on Britain’s ever-shrinking military in an increasingly volatile world. Hours after the strikes on the Houthis, Sunak was in Kyiv, where he announced a further 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) in military aid to Ukraine and signed a long-term security agreement with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Sunak — whose Conservative Party trails Labour in opinion polls ahead of an election due this year — also is struggling to revive his stalled plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
The Rwanda plan is an expensive, highly controversial policy that hasn’t sent a single person to the East African country so far. But it has become a totemic issue for Sunak, central to his pledge to “stop the boats” bringing unauthorized migrants to the U.K. across the English Channel from France. More than 29,000 people made the perilous journey in 2023. Five people died on the weekend while trying to launch a boat from northern France in the dark and winter cold.
London and Kigali made a deal almost two years ago under which migrants who reach Britain across the Channel would be sent to Rwanda, where they would stay permanently.
The plan has been criticized as inhumane and unworkable by human rights groups and challenged in British courts. In November the U.K. Supreme Court ruled the policy is illegal because Rwanda isn’t a safe country for refugees.
In response to the court ruling, Britain and Rwanda signed a treaty pledging to strengthen protections for migrants. Sunak’s government argues that the treaty allows it to pass a law declaring Rwanda a safe destination.
If approved by Parliament, the law would allow the government to “disapply” sections of U.K. human rights law when it comes to Rwanda-related asylum claims and make it harder to challenge the deportations in court.
But the bill faces criticism both from Conservative centrists who think it flirts with breaking international law, and from lawmakers on the party’s authoritarian right, who say it doesn’t go far enough because it leaves some legal routes for migrants to challenge deportation.
Both sides say they will try to amend the bill during two days of debate in the House of Commons culminating in a vote on Wednesday.
Sunak said Monday he was “confident that the bill we have got is the toughest that anyone has ever seen and it will resolve this issue once and for all.”
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