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Shapps: Houthis’ ability to attack in Red Sea reduced but not fully degraded

The Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks in the Red Sea has been reduced – but not “fully degraded”, Grant Shapps has said.

The Defence Secretary told the Commons the UK will, if necessary, not hesitate to respond again “in self-defence”.

He was updating MPs after the UK and the US took part in joint airstrikes against Houthi rebel sites in Yemen on Saturday.

Mr Shapps said the attacks were in line with international law and in self-defence, and had targeted “three military facilities” hitting “11 separate targets”, identified following “very careful analysis”.

He said: “We do not believe that there were any civilian casualties on Saturday night.”

He said the attacks were “effective” and hit all the targets.

“We are still carrying out the surveillance to find out exactly what the impact will have been but I think we can be very confident that all of the relevant objectives were reached,” he said.

Mr Shapps said he believes “the clock is running down for the Houthis”, but warned MPs that while the rebel group’s capabilities have been “degraded”, they have not been “fully degraded”.

Mr Shapps said in his statement: “On two previous occasions we have been required to use force, and these attacks have had a significant effect on degrading Houthi capabilities.

“But the Houthis’ intent to continue disrupting the Red Sea has not been fully diminished.”

He added: “We would much rather the Houthis simply stopped attacking international shipping, stopped damaging global trade and stop harming the prospects of their own people.

“At the same time, appeasing the Houthis today will not lead to a more stable Red Sea, indeed a more stable region.

“We are not seeking confrontation and we urge the Houthis and all those who enable them to stop these illegal and unacceptable attacks.

“But, if necessary, the UK will not hesitate to respond again in self-defence.”

Speaking later in the session, he said: “It is clear that the Houthis are perhaps no longer able to act as they once were.

“But they are not fully degraded. There must surely come a time where they understand that this is no longer in their interests because we are working actively to make sure we intercept new supplies as far as possible, and they will continue to be degraded if they continue to act as they have done.”

He also told MPs: “We want to bring it to a close. But this remains open-ended, and we will have to go back if they do no stop.”

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “This is the third UK/US strike in the last three weeks, at what stage do three one-off strikes become a sustained campaign?

“And if this does develop into continuing military action, at what stage will the Government give Parliament a say?”

Mr Shapps said: “None of us know how long this will need to continue, but we do want to see this come to a conclusion as quickly as possible.”

Labour MP Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) asked if the Government intends to commit to sustained military action, adding: “If so, surely it is only right for Parliament to have its say in the appropriate way.”

Mr Shapps said it was the third statement given in the Commons on the issue, adding: “We do feel that Parliament is being fully engaged in this process.

“We are not looking to make this… a sustained long-term military action.”

Houthi leaders said over the weekend that the latest allied air strikes would not deter them from targeting commercial ships in an operation they say is backing Palestinians in Gaza.