This week given global events I thought I would touch on my former brief, foreign policy.
The UK together with the USA launched another round of strikes on Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. Like the previous ones, these strikes were targeted at things like buried storage facilities, missile systems, and launchers to minimise the risk to civilian lives.
The Houthi rebel group is backed by Iran and has been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea since November. This is a real threat to our national interest – we need safe shipping lanes for our imports and exports. As Chancellor I am deeply aware of the economic impact of Houthi attacks.
The Red Sea route is absolutely essential for our trade. Without it and the Suez Canal, ships are forced to take a 5,000 mile detour around the entire African continent. That means that rather than taking 25 days for a ship to travel from Taiwan to the UK, it takes 34 days, leading to much higher prices as companies need to pay for more crew, more fuel, and their ships cannot complete as many journeys in a year.
The route is used for trade for a huge variety of products, from food products like grain, to oil and essential parts for manufacturing. So the Houthi attacks can send food inflation spiralling and hit countries with higher poverty levels the hardest – a significant amount of damage. They are of course illegal and dangerous for crew on the ships they are targeting.
We issued repeated warnings to the Houthis, but they continued with their attacks. Military action is very much the last resort but given these circumstances it was only right that we act in self-defence and in accordance with international law. We did so with our American allies and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, and New Zealand.
As Rishi Sunak made clear earlier this month, the UK strikes come alongside new sanctions, enforcing the arms embargo against the Houthis, a diplomatic effort towards de-escalation, and continued aid to Yemen.
This is right– we do not want further instability in the region. At the same time, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that he won’t hesitate to protect our national interests and British lives – his absolute priority.
In an unstable world the UK stands with the US in taking proportionate action to defend the interests of the many countries who depend on free trade.