Defence Secretary 'not ruling out' UK military action in Iran

7 January 2020, 19:44 | Updated: 7 January 2020, 19:46

Ben Wallace was speaking in response to the death of Soleimani
Ben Wallace was speaking in response to the death of Soleimani. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he would not "rule out anything" when asked whether the UK would agree to military action in Iran.

Mr Wallace told MPs that the UK would respond with "proportionate" measures if British citizens or armed service personnel were killed by the actions of Iran.

The secretary of state for defence was being grilled by his colleagues in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

He was answering questions relating to the death of the Iranian military general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike on Baghdad Airport last week.

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey asked if Mr Wallace would rule out any British military action in Iran.

He said: "Given how damaging the Iraq War was to security in the Middle East and given the Government's support for reducing tension, will the Secretary of State now rule out any British involvement in any attack on any site in Iran?"

Ben Wallace said it was the government&squot;s "duty" to protect British citizens
Ben Wallace said it was the government's "duty" to protect British citizens. Picture: PA

The defence secretary replied: "I'm not going to rule out anything. The UK will do what it has to do to defend its persons, its citizens and wherever it needs to do that.

"That is our duty.

"We cannot say what is in the minds of Iran or anybody else in the future and that's why we will always reserve our right to take that decision at the time of it."

Derek Twigg, former Labour minister, asked how the UK government would respond if British citizens - who have been warned against travelling to Iran and Iraq - were killed by the actions of Iran.

Mr Wallace responded: "If British civilians were killed, or even military personnel, as a result of Iranian or terrorist action we would look at the response.

"The response would no doubt be proportionate and we will, of course, look at it at the time, if it happened."

Labour MP Derek Twigg asked how the government would respond to Brits being killed by Iran
Labour MP Derek Twigg asked how the government would respond to Brits being killed by Iran. Picture: PA

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard asked if there are "any other members or officials of the Iranian Government whose assassination the United Kingdom would find acceptable?"

Mr Wallace responded: "I mean, I don't know how to start on that question.

"Look, I think the United Kingdom would always seek to follow international law in dealing with threats against it."

Earlier in the Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who labelled Soleimani "a threat to all our interests - of "hiding behind his Defence Secretary" by not answering questions in the House himself.

"Could he tell us where the Prime Minister is? And what is he doing that's so much more important than addressing Parliament on the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?" he asked.

"An extremely dangerous and aggressive act that risks starting yet another deadly war in the Middle East."

Mr Corbyn accused Mr Johnson of "hiding behind" his defence secretary
Mr Corbyn accused Mr Johnson of "hiding behind" his defence secretary. Picture: PA

The defence secretary replied: "This Prime Minister actually believes in a Cabinet Government and letting the members of the cabinet who are responsible for the policy to come to the House to be able to answer the questions around the policy matter."

Mr Wallace also reassured the Commons that Boris Johnson's government would "call out" attacks on cultural sites, whether they were destroyed by "friends or foe."

SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald asked Mr Wallace if a move, suggested by US President Donald Trump, to destroy cultural sites would be unlawful under international law.

"We, of course, would condemn any attacks on heritage sites and do recognise that would be against international law," the defence secretary replied.

"My counterpart Secretary Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, has already clearly said that the US will not target heritage sites.

"And, if anyone was to do that, no matter whether they were friend or foe, we would, of course, call them out on doing that."

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