A minister has strongly hinted that Britain is moving closer towards officially recognizing Somaliland to tackle the Red Sea Houthi crisis.

By David Maddox, Political Editor

Britain appears to be close to making a stunning diplomatic move as the conflict with Houthi terrorists in the Red Sea continues to escalate.

Defense Minister the Earl of Minto appeared to hint in the House of Lords that reports the UK is considering recognizing Somaliland as an independent state are true.


He was pressed on the issue by Viscount Waverley during an update on the Red Sea crisis to peers last week.

It comes after revealed that Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron had sat down with former Defense Secretary Sir Gavin Williamson to discuss the status of the former British protectorate, which gained independence in 1960.

A 33-year-old dispute has seen Somaliland go unrecognized by the international community because neighboring Somalia claims it is part of their territory.

Brexit Britain Edging Closer To Surprise Diplomatic Move To Help End Houthi Red Sea Crisis
Lord Cameron is said to be sympathetic to recognizing Somaliland (Image: Getty)

But pressure is mounting on the government to formally recognize Somaliland, which is a stable, peaceful democracy, unlike neighboring Somalia, which has been described as a “failed state” and is a center for piracy along with Houthi activity.

The Somaliland port of Berbera is also a key strategic spot for Royal Navy vessels to dock while protecting the major trade route on the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea which has come under attack from Houthi terrorists in Yemen.

Lord Cameron was said to be “sympathetic” to recognition with a country which wants to be an ally of the British and rejoin the Commonwealth, especially as neighboring Ethiopia has now recognized Somaliland.

Exchanges in the Lords appeared to confirm there is some movement on the issue which has been described as “a major Brexit opportunity”.

Viscount Waverley, a crossbencher, noted: “Securing sea routes to ensure safe passage for supply chains is paramount. While Djibouti is a haven for French and US assets, what consideration has there been of extending outreach in a winning combination of the two, utilizing the port of Berbera in Somaliland?”

Brexit Britain Edging Closer To Surprise Diplomatic Move To Help End Houthi Red Sea Crisis
Sir Gavin Williamson is a long time supporter of Somaliland (Image: Getty)

He added: “Am I right in thinking that the Chinese are considering investing in the management of that port? Is the Minister considering setting up discussions with the Chinese interests to set out a beneficial rulebook as to how we can avail ourselves of that port for our own affairs as well?”

The Earl of Minto responded: “The point about supply chains is extremely well made. This situation is potentially so damaging to the world’s trade—and it must be damaging the Chinese more than anyone, I would have thought—that there will definitely be countries and groups of countries that will look very carefully at where we could get bases from. Of course, we have a very successful base in Cyprus, and the Chinese are all over the east coast of Africa, as we know, but the point is well made.”

Later Viscount Waverley interjected again.

He said: “I proposed to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that Somaliland be recognized. He suggested, if I remember correctly, that it is for the UN to determine this. Nevertheless, I think that there should be a lead from the UK in suggesting that Somaliland be recognized in its own right. For example, it shares the SOM designation with Somalia, so Somaliland being its own entity would probably be beneficial all round. Does the Minister agree?”

Minto agreed to take up the issue with the Foreign Minister for Africa and the Middle East, Lord Ahmad.

With the Houthi crisis growing in the Red Sea, the case for Somaliland which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 has been backed by a number of politicians including Sir Gavin, former Attorney General Sir Michael Ellis, Tory MP Alexander Stafford and former foreign minister Lord Goldsmith.

Somaliland was a UK protectorate that became the 17th African country to be given full independence on June 26, 1960 but within days it united with Somalia. However, after years of persecution and ethnic tensions, Somaliland declared independence in 1991 using its original boundaries as a British protectorate but has not been officially recognized for 33 years.

Now a breakthrough may have happened with a Memorandum of Understanding with Ethiopia, which has become the first major African state to give Somaliland recognition.

Supporters of Somaliland’s case have pointed out that it is a stable and peaceful democracy, with an excellent record on women’s rights. Meanwhile, Somalia, which lays claim to Somaliland has become a failed state and haven for piracy and terrorists.