Keir Starmer prepared to take action against Houthis

Labour leader reveals he is aligned with UK government over situation in Red Sea

Keir Starmer, the Labour party leader, said he broadly supports the government's proposal for action against Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. EPA
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Opposition leader Keir Starmer on Sunday revealed he agrees with the UK government’s response to the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and is keen to avoid a political divide on the issue.

The Labour leader said he had been in contact with the Cabinet Office about the situation and was "talking to the government”.

Defence Minister Grant Shapps has threatened to retaliate against the Houthi rebels in Yemen over their recent wave of attacks on a number of vessels they say were carrying goods on the Red Sea to or from Israel.

Mr Starmer said he supports the government's proposal, though he would wait to see what form any military action would take before commenting further.

“I agree with the government on this, I’m treading carefully because it’s a sensitive issue”, he told Sky News, in an interview that looked at the election year ahead.

Labour is expected to win the general election this year, after 13 years of Conservative rule, and is far ahead in the opinion polls.

The party leader said a Labour government would make national security a top priority. “National security is the first concern of any government. Where action is needed we’re prepared to take it,” Mr Starmer said.

He seeks to “stand as one” with the current government on issues such as terrorism and Ukraine.

“We will, wherever we can, work together so there’s one voice coming out the UK,” he said. "It will not help the situation in Red Sea to have a political divide."

Mr Starmer party has been divided over his stance on the Israel-Gaza war, in which he has backed humanitarian pauses in fighting but rejected calls for a ceasefire.

National rallies in support of Palestinians have attracted hundreds of thousands of people in London almost weekly since Israel’s bombardment of Gaza after the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Asked whether UK protests demanding a ceasefire in Gaza were examples of free speech in action or revealed a darker side of society, Mr Starmer said they were "a bit of both”.

“I’m proud we have the right to protest, including on issues where I may not agree with the protesters,” he said.

“Within some of these protests there have been criminal offences committed, which police have had to follow up on."

He also warned of threats made to MPs over the Israel-Gaza war.

“I find it very concerning the number of the level of threats made to MPs, including within my own party,” he said.

He feared this could lead to violence, referring to MPs killed while in office – such as Jo Cox and David Amess – by people holding radical views. “In and around, we must be very careful," he said.

"We’ve lost parliamentary colleagues in the past. This isn’t just an idle discussion.

“I don’t think we can escape the facts that there are these threats."

Updated: January 07, 2024, 11:30 AM