Britain is to join with the US in a naval mission to protect oil tankers in the Gulf from seizure by Iran, as London shifted away from plans for a European-led mission that had been proposed by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The announcement by Boris Johnson’s government will see the UK will supply two Royal Navy ships in the Gulf alongside two US warships, with Hunt’s successor urging other countries to join in.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: “Our aim is to build the broadest international support to uphold freedom of navigation in the region, as protected under international law.”
France and Germany have previously indicated they would refuse to join any US-led mission, but the UK is still hoping that by joining in with the Americans they and other countries would be persuaded to participate.
Those hopes were rebuffed again by Germany’s foreign minister on Monday. Repeating that his country would not join in a US-led mission, Heiko Mass said: “At the moment the Britons would rather join an American mission. We won’t do that.”
The announcement comes a fortnight after the British-flagged Stena Impero was seized by Iran, which had prompted Hunt to call for the creation of a “European-led” mission in one of his final days in the job.
Instead Boris Johnson’s government has decided to join with the US as it seeks to accompany international shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, through which it is estimated a fifth of the world’s oil passes at a time of heightened tensions with Iran.
The Iranians seized the Stena Impero partly in response to the impounding of an Iran-flagged oil tanker, the Grace 1, in Gibraltar. Iran said the Stena Impero had cut off communications, forcing it to act, while the UK said the ship was in the territorial waters of nearby Oman.
Prior to that, there were a series of incidents of tanker sabotage in the region that were blamed on the Iranians, who are unhappy with US decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and levy sanctions on the country.
The UK is patrolling the Persian Gulf with two warships, HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer, which joined HMS Montrose, a Type 23 Frigate, in at the end of last month. But when the Stena Impero was seized in the Straits, the Montrose was unable to intervene because it was 60 minutes sail away.
Germany and France are uneasy about a US-led force because that could be perceived as necessarily antagonistic to Iran. The two European countries, as well as the UK, remain signed up to the nuclear deal with Tehran, although the US administration has pulled out.