The United States offered to help Britain protect UK-registered ships in the Gulf before a tanker was seized by Iran, a former Government minister claimed today.
Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said Washington had offered the use of ‘assets’ in the hotpoint region before the Stena Impero was stormed by Iranian Special Forces on Friday.
Describing the grab by Tehran as a ‘major failure’ by the UK, he demanded to know why the offer was refused.
It came after a top defence minister warned it was ‘impossible’ for the UK to protect every ship from Iranian forces in the Gulf as he demanded more money for the Royal Navy.
Tobias Ellwood denied that the UK had taken its ‘eye off the ball’ and said the Government was looking at a ‘series of options’ after Iranian forces seized a UK-flagged tanker.
Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: ‘I think there are genuine questions to be raised right now about the British Government’s behaviour, I say this as a supporter of the Government.
‘They were not taken up at the point and I want to know why, with only one ship as it appears there, and no accelerated attempt at assets.
‘This is a major failure and the Government has to answer that charge very quickly indeed.’
The tanker, carrying 23 crew, was taken to an Iranian port on Friday, sparking an international crisis.
Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said Washington has offered the use of ‘assets’ in the hotpoint region before the Stena Impero was stormed by Iranian Special Forces on Friday
The Stena Impero oil tanker carrying 23 crew was stormed by Iranian Special Forces, on Friday, sparking an international crisis
Questions have been raised as to why British-flagged vessels were not being escorted through the area, following threats from Tehran after an Iranian ship was impounded in Gibraltar last week.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday this morning Mr Ellwood said the UK had three or four warships 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.’
Mr Ellwood also called for more money to be invested in defence if Britain wants to continue to play a role on the international stage.
He said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Mr Ellwood said the UK had three or four warships going through 100 nautical miles of waterway every day, adding: ‘It is impossible simply to escort each individual vessel’
A former head of the Royal Navy said the UK should not ‘pretend we’re surprised’ that Iran has seized two British oil tankers in the Gulf.
Mr Duncan Smith leaving the BBC with Andrew Marr this morning after his interview
Lord West of Spitfield told Sky News: ‘What I find extraordinary is that we knew that the Iranians would try something like this a few days ago.
‘I’m absolutely amazed that we haven’t implemented some sort of control of red ensign shipping within the region whereby no tanker would go in to what is clearly a dangerous zone without an escort, and I find it bizarre that we seem to have ships doing exactly that.’
West accused the British navy had ‘too few ships’ and would find it ‘extremely difficult’ to provide escorts to merchant vessels.
The Royal Navy has since deployed frigate HMS Montrose to the Gulf and destroyer HMS Duncan is on her way to join her.
HMS Montrose, which is patrolling the Persian Gulf, raced towards the scene after the British-flagged tanker diverted from its planned course.
In a new propaganda video issued by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards today, speedboats pull up alongside the detained British-flagged tanker Stena Impero
Britain only has the Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose in the region plus four mine hunters, while the US as its Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain – which includes one aircraft carrier, one missile cruiser, five destroyers, two amphibious vessels and two or three submarines
The footage showed troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns (pictured) rappelling to its deck from a helicopter before capturing the British oil tanker last night
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.’