Britain’s navy will accompany UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz to provide protection after the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani inflamed tensions in the region.
Britain’s defence minister, Ben Wallace, ordered HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to return to escort duties in the major oil shipping route as Prime Minister Boris Johnson came in for criticism for his silence over the killing.
Media reports said Johnson is on holiday in the Caribbean.
“Government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time,” Wallace said in a statement.
Britain was forced to defend its ships through the world’s most important shipping route last year after Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait.
British forces previously captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria. The killing of Soleimani raised fears tankers could be targeted again.
Wallace spoke to his US counterpart, Defence Secretary Mark Esper, and urged restraint on all sides.
“Under international law, the United States is entitled to defend itself against an imminent threat to citizens,” he added.
Jeremy Corbyn, outgoing leader of the opposition Labour Party, said he had written to the British prime minister to ask what was being done to protect UK nationals and others in the region.
“Boris Johnson should have immediately cut short his holiday to deal with an issue that could have grave consequences for the UK and the world,” he said in a statement.