A defence minister Tobias Ellwood has said that the UK’s navy is not big enough for it to continue to play a full role on the international stage. His comments come amdist a growing crisis with Iran.
Ellwood said the UK needs to invest more in defence it responds to the ramping up of the threat from Iran.
“If we want to continue playing a role on the international stage – bearing in mind that threats are changing – all happening just beneath the threshold of all-out war, then we must invest more in our defence, including our Royal Navy,” he said.
Speaking to Sky’s Ridge on Sunday Ellwood said: “Our Royal Navy is too small to manage our interests across the globe if that’s our future intentions and that’s something the next prime minister will need to recognise.”
It comes after Iranian forces seized a UK-flagged tanker amid escalating tensions in the Middle East.
The Government has said it is looking at a “series of options” after the vessel was commandeered in the Omani waters in the economically significant Strait of Hormuz.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he will unveil the diplomatic and economic measures on Monday in response to the apprehension and detention of the Stena Imperto, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
The paper said London may also seek the reimposing of UN and EU sanctions which were lifted against Iran in 2016 in connection to a deal on the country’s nuclear programme.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized the Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping route in the Gulf, claiming it was “violating international maritime rules”.
HMS Montrose raced to assist the Impero but was too late.
Mr Hunt rubbished Iran’s claims the vessel was in the wrong, saying Iran’s actions were a “clear contravention of international law”.
Mr Ellwood refused to say if Iran had taken advantage of the Foreign Secretary being involved in a leadership contest.
Asked whether the UK had taken its “eye off the ball”, he replied: “No, not at all.”
Mr Ellwood said the UK had vessels going through 100 nautical miles of waterway every day, adding: “It is impossible simply to escort each individual vessel.”
Asked if sanctions were off the table, Mr Ellwood said: “Cobra was taking place yesterday, so we’re looking at the operational responsibilities from that but, yes, we are going to be looking at a series of options.”
Meanwhile a Labour shadow minister warned the situation in Iran could be even worse than the war in Iraq.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the UK risks being drawn into a conflict between Iran and the US as “Donald Trump’s sidekick”.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Burgon said: “If we end up in a conflict backed by Donald Trump then I think it would not only be comparable with Iraq, in fact it could be even worse than Iraq, and that should really scare everybody.”
He added: “We need sensible negotiations. We’ve got a really important part to play diplomatically in this. We can use our negotiating weight.
“I think that our Government has international respect and this country has international respect in a way that Donald Trump doesn’t. I think we need to use that for the purposes of conflict resolution and for the purposes of making sure this doesn’t escalate out of control.”