The Royal Navy will escort all British ships through the Strait of Hormuz, the government has announced, after previously saying it didn’t have the resources.
Ships will be escorted either alone or in groups provided they give the Navy enough notification of their intention to pass, a government spokesman said.
The policy U-turn was announced on Boris Johnson’s first full day as British Prime Minister, having taken the reins from Theresa May on Wednesday.
The Royal Navy says it will escort all British ships through the Strait of Hormuz after tanker Stena Impero was seized by Iran last week (pictured, Revolutionary Guards drop from a helicopter on to the ship)
The British government had previously said it was ‘impossible’ to escort every ship through the strait, and denied it had ‘taken its eye off the ball’ by allowing the Impero to be seized
Tensions with Iran have been rising since the US stepped away from a nuclear deal last year, but events have escalated rapidly since four tankers were attacked on May 12
It comes after Iranian media mocked him as Trump’s butler and said that his tenure in Downing Street would be short-lived.
‘The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,’ a British government spokesman said.
‘Freedom of navigation is crucial for the global trading system and world economy, and we will do all we can to defend it,’ he added in a statement.
That is despite that fact that Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said earlier this week that it would be ‘impossible’ to escort every ship.
He said the UK had vessels going through 100 nautical miles of waterway every day in the region, adding: ‘It is impossible simply to escort each individual vessel.’
He also called for more money to be invested in the Royal Navy if Britain wants to continue to play a role on the international stage.
Iran has been threatening British shipping through the strait since Royal Marines seized one of its tankers off Gibraltar earlier this month.
The Stena Impero – a British-flagged, Swedish-owned vessel – was stopped by Revolutionary Guards boats last week and is now being held in the port of Bandar Abbas. Britain and Sweden are negotiating for its release.
It comes amid sky-high tensions around the Persian Gulf sparked when the Trump administration tore up a nuclear deal signed under Obama, and which came to a head in May and June when several other tankers were attacked.
The UK and US blamed the attacks on Iran, before Tehran shot down an American drone. Donald Trump ordered airstrikes which were called off at the last minute, before the US Navy claimed it brought down two Iranian drones.
The Royal Navy fleet has been shrinking for years and is now the smallest it has ever been, leading critics to say that it is not fit for purpose
The HMS Montrose (file picture) has been tasked with escort missions in the strait and has been joined by HMS Duncan
Iran has said that it is willing to negotiate the release of the Stena, but only if Britain frees its tanker which was seized near Gibraltar last month
Britain has been seeking to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s seizure of the tanker in what London said was an act of ‘state piracy’.
France, Italy and Denmark support the idea, three EU diplomats said on Tuesday, but Germany has said it is too early to discuss how Berlin might take part.
Iran has also vowed to secure the strait and said it will not allow any disturbance in shipping there, state news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi as saying on Tuesday.
America has also massively increased its military presence in the region, which now includes two carrier strike groups and thousands of troops.
The policy U-turn comes after Iranian media mocked Johnson as Trump’s butler and said that he wouldn’t last long in office
Iranian newspapers also showed Boris casting a shadow shaped like Trump (top), and the US President tapping him on the shoulder (bottom left), under the headline ‘mimicking Trump’
Washington is trying to put together a task force to tackle what it describes as Iranian aggression around the Gulf, but European leaders are loathe to commit.
The EU and its partners are still officially committed to helping save the Iran deal by setting up financial structures that will skirt US sanctions and deliver Iran the economic benefits it was promised.
In return, Iran has pledged to curtail its domestic nuclear programme in such a way that it cannot develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has been slowly breaching the deal as it tries to pressure Europe into action – including building up uranium stockpiles and enriching uranium closer to the levels needed to build a bomb.