The prime minister has been criticised for his “deafening silence” following the assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Suleimani by the United States that has seen the West take a ‘major lurch towards war’.
The Royal Navy has deployed two ships in the Persian Gulf as tensions continue to escalate but Boris Johnson has instead been “sunning himself, drinking vodka martinis somewhere else, and not paying attention to this,” said shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.
The Labour leadership contender told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that the PM’s absence meant the cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill had chaired three emergency Cobra meetings since the assassination.
Thornberry described the US attack as “reckless” and said the killing marked a “major lurch towards war”, comments echoed by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt who called it an “extreme” act that could trigger war.
Suleimani – said to have been the second most powerful man in Iran – was killed by a US drone strike near Iraq’s Baghdad airport in the early hours of Friday – but Boris Johnson has not cut short his luxury holiday to the Caribbean paradise island of Mustique to deal with the crisis, or publicly commented on it.
PM not ‘back in play’ until Monday
Thornberry suggested Johnson’s silence was because the PM was “afraid of angering Trump” in an Observer column. Foreign secretary Dominc Raab hit back, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme the PM “has been in charge”.
Raab insisted he had been in “constant contact” with Johnson and that “there has not been a vacuum at all”, although he admitted the PM would not be “back in play” until Monday.
Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds return from Mustique today (Sunday) and the PM is expected to update MPs on the crisis when parliament resumes on Tuesday.
Raab responded to the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s criticism of European allies’ response to the assassination of Sulemani, backing the US “right to self-defence”.
Pompeo said Europe’s call for calm following the attack was “not being helpful” in a Fox News interview, whilst praising that from the US’s Middle Eastern allies as “fantastic.”
He told Fox’s Sean Hannity: “The Brits, the French, the Germans – all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well”.
‘All-out war looms in Gulf’
Iran has vowed “harsh vengeance” for the killing of its general and thousands of people have already joined angry protests to denounce the US and UK whose flags were burned in demonstrations across Iran and Iraq.
President Donald Trump last night (Saturday) threatened airstrikes on 52 Iranian sites if reprisals occur – a move the Independent said “would appear to hint at looming all-out war in the Gulf.”
UK Defence secretary Ben Wallace ordered HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to accompany British ships through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to “take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens” on Saturday night, as the hashtag #wheresBoris started trending on Twitter.