In a foreign policy turnaround, Britain will join the U.S. mission to secure the safety of ships in the Strait of Hormuz.
At the end of July, former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced he aimed to put together a European-led maritime protection vessel to support safe passage of crew and cargo in the region following a spate of attacks and the seizure of a British-flagged tanker.
Hunt said at the time that the U.K. was not looking to join the U.S. plan for fear of scuppering the nuclear agreement.
Hunt’s call for European unity did not sit well with the country’s pending divorce from the European Union. This was further compounded when known Euro-sceptic and Brexiteer Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Conservative Party and therefore the country’s prime minister.
Johnson wasted no time in replacing Hunt (who was also his opponent in the race for leadership) at the foreign office with former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.
Raab seems keen to further distance the U.K. from the EU and instead has his sights set on the U.S. as number one ally. On August 6 he began a visit to the U.S., Canada and Mexico to explore trade and security partnerships and “strengthen friendships”.
The Strait of Hormuz mission will see Britain’s Royal Navy working alongside the U.S. navy to assure the security of merchant vessels. The U.K. has also offered to lead one of the mission’s Maritime Task Groups.
The Strait of Hormuz is the busiest narrow shipping passage in the world and a vital transit zone with 20% of the world’s oil passing through it every year. There have been attacks on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the last four months and the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was illegally seized.
While exact operational details are being determined, the mission is intended to improve coordination between different countries’ militaries and commercial shipping.
Announcing Britain’s involvement in the mission, Raab said the aim is to “build the broadest international support to uphold freedom of navigation in the region, as protected under international law”.
On Iran’s nuclear arsenal, he said the approach had not changed and that the U.K. remains “committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal”.