Daily Mail

Aircraft carrier fiasco

£3.5bn warships lie in dock amid Red Sea crisis as Britons are told to leave Yemen

- By Mark Nicol Defence Editor

FORMER defence ministers and Royal Navy chiefs last night expressed dismay over the UK’s refusal to deploy either of its £3.5billion aircraft carriers to the Red Sea.

they suggested it was absurd for Britain to continue to rely on RAF jets flying 3,000 miles from their base in Cyprus to launch air strikes against Houthi in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the hugely expensive carriers – supposedly built so Britain could rule the waves – have remained anchored in Portsmouth.

the Navy’s website describes HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales as ‘investment­s in British security, prosperity and place in the world’. Despite the rhetoric, neither carrier has ventured anywhere near a conflict zone since they entered service.

Yesterday morning, just hours after the UK’s latest air strikes to prevent attacks by Houthis on internatio­nal cargo ships and tankers, the huge Royal Navy vessels were seen idling in tranquil waters off the Solent.

the reason for this, the Mail has been told, is that senior government figures vetoed a Navy recommenda­tion that a carrier should be sent.

the decision apparently horrified senior officers who fear one of the carriers could be vulnerable to future defence cuts.

Speaking to the Mail, former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord West said: ‘I find it absolutely extraordin­ary we have not sent a carrier. As with either HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales in situ we would be able to make a much more significan­t contributi­on. Instead, we are reduced to flying thousands of miles to and from Cyprus and to dropping a strictly limited number of warheads at great expense.

‘Why did we bother building the carriers when, seemingly, we are reluctant to deploy them operationa­lly. Doing so would send a very strong message to the Iranians and the Houthis. We need to plan for the medium to longer term as there is no end in sight.’

the RAF typhoons from Cyprus refuelled on both legs of yesterday’s journey, as they did on the first British air strikes on January 11. On Monday evening they dropped a total of eight guided missiles at two locations near the Yemeni capital Sanaa before returning to RAF Akrotiri.

the US F/A-18 Super Hornets involved in the joint operation took off and landed on the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier.

Its presence has enabled the Americans to launch eight separate air strikes on Houthi targets in the past ten days and to deliver significan­tly more firepower.

According to former defence minister tobias Ellwood, the US would back the UK sending one of its aircraft carriers to the conflict zone.

He said: ‘the US would like us to deploy a carrier group to the Middle East. We must work to prevent escalation but prepare in case it does – and further destabilis­es the region. We must plan four chess moves ahead.’ Another former defence minister, Mark Francois, backed calls to send a carrier. He said: ‘Part of the Royal Navy’s historic mission has been to protect freedom of navigation for ours and allied shipping. So deploying an aircraft carrier would be wholly in keeping with this.’ Last night the Ministry of Defence said: ‘One of our aircraft carriers is constantly held at high readiness to deploy along with the aircraft, personnel and supporting ships it requires. Any decision as to whether to deploy the carriers would be made in conjunctio­n with our allies and based on operationa­l need.’

No 10 and the Foreign Office were approached for comment.

the row exploded as British and US aid workers were told to leave

‘Deliver more firepower’

Yemen. In a letter to the united Nations, the Houthi- controlled foreign affairs ministry gave British and Americans 30 days to leave.

rishi Sunak told MPs yesterday that UK aid had been a lifeline to Yemenis caught up in civil war and that the UK had provided £1billion since the conflict began in 2014, feeding 100,000 people a month.

the PM added that Britain would ‘continue to deliver humanitari­an aid and to support a negotiated peace’.

 ?? ?? Becalmed: Aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince ofWales in Portsmouth Harbour yesterday Picture by Steve Reigate
Becalmed: Aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince ofWales in Portsmouth Harbour yesterday Picture by Steve Reigate
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