MPs to be updated on Houthi strikes – as dispute arises over whether Labour was briefed

Politics

Rishi Sunak will address MPs about the latest Houthi strikes later today – amid a dispute about whether Labour was briefed over the action.

Huw Merriman, the transport minister, told Sky News that Sir Keir Starmer and Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle were told about the operation before it happened, despite briefings to the contrary.

Politics live: Row brews over Houthi strikes briefing

“I can confirm that the Leader of the Opposition and indeed the Speaker were again given that information in the same way they were the first time around,” he said.

However Sir Lindsay is disputing this, Sky News understands.

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Starmer ‘told about Houthi strikes’

Labour also said they were not told about the operation before it happened.

Karin Smyth, a shadow health minister, told GB News this morning: “We don’t know why the government hasn’t spoken to us on the usual terms.

“We would expect them to do that.”

Speaking later at the Institute for Government, she said this mattered because of Sir Keir’s “constitutional position as leader of the official opposition”.

She said this means he should be briefed under the terms of the privy council, the mechanism through which interdepartmental agreement is reached on certain matters of government business.

“We’ve been very clear that these issues after immediate action or urgent action of course is done on those terms, the prime minister should come to parliament. That is his job,” Ms Smyth said.

Number 10 said Sir Lindsay and Sir Keir “were informed last night”, but refused to provide clarity on whether this was before the strikes were launched.

Last night the US and UK carried out joint attacks on Houthi military targets in Yemen for the second time, in response to their repeated attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Ahead of the first strikes earlier this month, both Sir Keir and Sir Lindsay were briefed in advance.

Sir Keir expressed his support for the military intervention to protect ships and personnel in the vital trade route, in a rare showing of cross-party unity.

It is understood there will be a briefing today which Labour representatives will attend.

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‘UK aid feeds 100,000 Yeminis a month’

Lots of MPs have demanded parliament be given a vote on the strikes, amid concerns over escalation of conflict in the Middle East.

Military intervention is currently a prerogative power, so the government does not have to seek approval.

Read More:
Why have the UK and US launched strikes on Yemen and who are the Houthis?
The military firepower the UK and US have at their disposal in the Gulf

Mr Merriman said the prime minister will “account to parliament” by addressing MPs in the House of Commons later on Tuesday.

Bizarre and petty row risks damaging cross-party unity


Amanda Akass is a politics and business correspondent

Amanda Akass

Political correspondent

@amandaakass

Ahead of the last joint military operation against the Houthis on January 11th there was a rare outbreak of agreement between the Conservatives and the Labour leadership.

Sir Keir Starmer, shadow defence secretary John Healey and the speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle were called to Downing Street and briefed in advance of the strikes, shortly after the rest of the cabinet.

Afterwards Sir Keir expressed his support for military intervention to protect ships and personnel in the Red Sea.

While some backbenchers were uneasy about the risk of escalation – the ghosts of past wars in the Middle East looming large – and the Liberal Democrats and SNP called loudly for parliament to be recalled to debate what had happened, that wasn’t Labour’s official position.

Indeed Sir Keir found himself in hot water the weekend afterwards when he was accused of U-turning on a pledge made during his leadership campaign only to support military action if it had been approved by a parliamentary vote in advance; he claimed he only meant in situations with boots on the ground, not airstrikes.

This time around there’s a battle of briefing and counter briefing between the two parties.

Sky News understands neither Sir Keir nor Sir Lindsay, received an advance briefing this time, with shadow minister Karin Smyth telling broadcasters this morning “we don’t know why the government haven’t spoken to us on the usual terms – we would expect them to do that.”

But Huw Merriman, the government minister put up for this morning’s broadcast round, told Kay Burley that he believed that was not correct – as he understood they “were again given that information in the same way that they were the first time around”.

Both sides are standing by their story.

The key discrepancy seems to be on the timing; while No 10 sources insist both were briefed last night, it doesn’t seem to have been in advance.

We’re expecting some kind of statement from the government in parliament, as we saw last time, to set out more information about what happened to MPs.

But this rather bizarre and slightly petty row over who was informed when this morning is surely going to be damaging to the sense of cross party unity in the national interest we saw briefly flickering a few weeks ago.

He said the latest air strikes in the Red Sea will “not just be a one-off” if the Houthis continue their campaign of harassment against cargo ships in the region.

“For us to take action and then the Houthis respond, and then we do nothing, would send out the completely wrong signal,” he told Sky News.

“So, this demonstrates that we will be tough and we will take all measures required against the Houthis to protect international shipping and protect the lives of those who operate those ships.”

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