Former Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson is spearheading efforts to get Britain to recognize a friendly African country, which could help resolve the Houthi crisis in the Red Sea.

By David Maddox, Political Editor

A major opportunity to tackle the Red Sea crisis is “staring Britain in the face” if it is willing to end 33 years of “unfair” diplomatic isolation of a former outpost of the Empire. With the UK and USA firing at Houthi targets in Yemen after terrorists have attempted to target shipping through one of the key trade routes in the world, the UK has a major Brexit opportunity to finally embrace an important ally.

Former Defense Secretary Sir Gavin Williamson, who has been a close adviser and friend to Rishi Sunak in the past, is leading the push for the UK to formally recognize its former protectorate of Somaliland.


The country on the Horn of Africa, with a 531-mile coastline, has in effect been independent for 33 years and operating as a stable democracy but gone unrecognized because of a huge international dispute.

Somaliland has gone unrecognized because neighboring Somalia lays claim to it. The lack of formal recognition has persisted, though Somaliland has been operating as a stable, democratic, independent state for 33 years, while for much of that period, Somalia has been riven with civil war, a base for piracy, and in effect under the control of competing warlords.

Somaliland, The Unlikely Country That Could Solve Houthi Crisis In The Red Sea
Sir Gavin Williamson has been given honorary Somaliland citizenship (Image: Getty)

To make matters worse, Somaliland’s government believes that Houthi terrorists are running supplies through the mountainous region of Somalia near their border.

Sir Gavin first picked up the issue when he was Defense Secretary and recognized the strategic importance of Somaliland as well as their case for recognition.

The country’s major port of Berbera is a key haven for shipping, a significant important export point for East Africa, and a potential location to base UK and US warships.

The former cabinet minister told that the lack of recognition of the country, which has strong links and affection for the UK is “unfair and unjust”.

But with the military crisis in the Red Sea and a deal struck with Somaliland in a memorandum of understanding by Ethiopia, there are hopes that the UK can act.

Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland came as a result of it needing an ally with a port after it lost its coastline with the independence of Eritrea. But the diplomatic move underlined the problems with the issue, with large organized protests in Somalia claiming that Ethiopia was trying to grab its coastline.

Somaliland, The Unlikely Country That Could Solve Houthi Crisis In The Red Sea
Rishi Sunak has not ruled out more attacks on the Houthis (Image: Getty)

Sir Gavin said: “I think there was always a desire for an African country to recognize Somaliland first because of our colonial past and a wish not to be accused of interfering with African politics.

“This is a peaceful, stable, democratic country with its own army, government, tax system, and legal system. It is a country where women get access to education and health services. They are literally doing everything we would want, and they want to be our ally.

“Compare that to Somalia, where the President [Hassan Sheikh Mohamud] can’t even control his capital, Mogadishu, let alone the rest of his country, then we have to ask what we are doing here.

“There is no doubt that the current crisis in the Red Sea emphasizes the caser for recognition. We could be using Berera as a port for Royal Navy ships.”

Somaliland, The Unlikely Country That Could Solve Houthi Crisis In The Red Sea
Problems of the issue were underlined with protests in Somalia over Ethiopia recognizing Somaliland (Image: Getty)

Williamson is not the only MP pushing the case for Somaliland, which gained its independence from the UK on June 26, 1960, but five days later, on July 1, 1960, it united with the neighboring former Italian to create Somalia.

After three decades of civil war and brutality where English was banned in schools and thousands of people from Somaliland were forced to flee, the former British protectorate declared independence again in 1991 and has been running its own affairs since.

Rother Valley Conservative MP Alexander Stafford pressed the Prime Minister in the Commons after the first attack on Houthis to agree to formal recognition of Somaliland, something which the UK almost did in 2012.

He told “Somaliland, a relative haven of democracy, freedom, and education in an otherwise unstable region, has been seeking recognition for a third of a century.

“The UK’s position is that regional recognition must come before international recognition, and Somaliland’s recently signed MOU with Ethiopia is the first step on that road.

“The UK must not wait any longer and take advantage of our unique diplomatic position as the UN Penholder to formally recognize Somaliland and continue our legacy of supporting democracies the world over.”

Somaliland, The Unlikely Country That Could Solve Houthi Crisis In The Red Sea
Edna Adan is a passionate advocate for her country Somaliland (Image: Supplied)

Edna Adan, who was married to Mohamed Egal, Somaliland’s first Prime Minister in 1961, and is herself a former Foreign Minister for the country, spoke to on a recent trip to the UK.

She studied at a university in London as a young woman and has many links to the UK.

Despite her country’s unrecognized status, she has led work for the UN in North Africa as a trained nurse and has opened a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

She told “We are a peaceful country. If you travel anywhere in Somaliland, you can walk down the street in complete safety.

“The supplies going through to Ethiopia have not been looted or stolen.

“Our borders were agreed long ago by the British and are established on maps. We just want the recognition we deserve.

“Somaliland is a country which is a friend to Britain. We were the 12th African nation to be given independence, and the UK helped us to achieve it.

“We can be an important ally in these troubled times and in better times but Britain needs to help end this injustice.”

David Maddox

Political Editor

David MaddoxDavid Maddox is the Political Editor of, having joined the company in 2015 and previously serving in the same role for the Sunday Express print edition. He has extensively covered Scottish, US, and European politics and is interesting in reporting on the workings of the British Parliament, Conservative Party policies, and the Labor Party. David has been in journalism for around a quarter of a century, previously working at the Scotsman, Aberdeen Evening Express, Portsmouth News & Stratford Herald, and has worked as a lobby correspondent in Parliament since 2010. You can get in touch with him by emailing or by contacting him on Twitter @DavidPBMaddox