Clive Bull 1am - 4am
Boris Johnson to address MPs as Corbyn says PM is 'hiding behind his Defence Secretary'
8 January 2020, 06:22
MPs will question Boris Johnson on the growing crisis in the Middle East as the Prime Minister addresses the Commons at the first PMQs of the year.
The PM came under attack from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday for his failure to appear in Parliament.
Accusing Mr Johnson of "hiding behind his Defence Secretary" the Opposition leader demanded to know why Boris Johnson was not in the House to address MPs.
"Isn't the truth that he's scared to stand up to President Trump because he's hitched his wagon to the prospect of a toxic Trump trade deal?" he said.
"Instead, at this highly dangerous moment, we find the Government giving cover and even expressing sympathy for what is widely regarded as an illegal act, because they're so determined to keep in with President Trump."
Several hours later, the crisis intensified in the early hours of Wednesday morning as Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles towards two Iraqi air force bases hosting the United States and coalition forces.
American officials said 15 missiles were fired, with 10 striking the Ain al-Asad based 100 miles west of Baghdad, one striking a base in Irbil in northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and another four missing their targets.
Iranian state TV said the strikes were in revenge over the US killing last week of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. US authorities said casualties were 'few, if any'. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"
Mr Johnson has been accused of being slow to respond to the crisis - not returning from his new year break on the private Caribbean island of Mustique until the weekend.
However, he chaired a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue and held a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Government has taken "urgent measures" to protect British nationals and interests in the Gulf following the killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
The Guardian newspaper reported that "several hundred" troops had been put on standby of 48 hours for deployment in or near Iraq, who could be used to evacuate forces if the security situation in the country worsens.
At the same time, he defended the right of the US to act in self-defence, saying Gen Soleimani had been in neighbouring Iraq when he was hit to "co-ordinate murder and attacks on US citizens".
Mr Wallace said the safety and security of UK nationals and interests in the region were of "paramount concern".
Two British warships are already stationed near the Gulf, the HMS Montrose and the HMS Defender, which are ready to escort British flagged oil tankers through the strait of Hormuz if required.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn condemned Gen Soleimani's killing once again in an interview with Sky News.
He said: "To assassinate an official of a foreign government in a third country, in this case Iraq, is illegal under any law and the US, if it wants the world to stand by international law, must stand by international law itself.
"This is a provocative act which has made the whole world a much more dangerous place."
Mr Corbyn was repeatedly asked whether he would label the targeted general as a terrorist. He replied: "Soleimani is the head of special forces of Iran - they obviously operate in all kinds of places that you and I would not agree with or want.
"That is not the point. The point is it's an illegal act that took place and if we want to end illegal acts by anybody; you don't commit them yourself."
The Labour leader later reiterated his criticism of Mr Johnson for failing to address MPs and added: "He is the Prime Minister of this country, he has to be held to account for what his government says and does; he has to be held to account for his own actions by coming to our parliament to answer questions."