The Royal Navy is too small to counter the potential threat from Iran, the defence minister has admitted.

Tobias Ellwood told The Times: “The threats we’re facing are changing in front of us, the world is getting more complex. If we are wanting to continue to play this influential role on the international stage it will require further funding for our armed forces, not least the Royal Navy. Our Royal Navy is too small to manage our interests across the globe.”

The news comes after it emerged that Tehran had ignored warnings from a British warship against seizing a UK-flagged tanker in the Gulf. The Stena Impero and her 23-strong crew are being held by Iranian forces after they were taken on Friday while passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

The Guardian says the British government is facing accusations it had “failed to sufficiently guard its shipping in the Gulf.”

The Independent says the crisis has “roiled UK politics” ahead of a “potentially contentious week” in which Boris Johnson is likely to take over as prime minister from Theresa May.

In the Iranian media the mood is more defiant and cheery. The newspaper Kayhan​ cheered: “Tanker for tanker; Iran acted on its pledge,” while the conservative Resalat declared: “The Queen’s thieves captive in the strait”.

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The news of the Royal Navy shortages comes on top of another embarrassment in which audio was released of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Royal Navy both giving instructions to the UK-flagged tanker before it was seized by Tehran.

In the recording, an Iranian officer can be heard telling the Stena Impero: “If you obey, you will be safe. Alter your course to 360 degrees immediately, over.”

The Royal Navy asks the Iranians to “please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena”.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports warnings that Iran-backed terrorist cells could launch attacks in the UK if the crisis between London and Tehran deepens.

Intelligence sources claim that Tehran has sleeper terror cells across Europe and could give the go ahead for attacks in response to a conflict in the Gulf.

One source said: “Iran uses proxies and they have control of a network of individuals linked to Hezbollah.

“Iran has Hezbollah operatives in position to carry out a terrorist attack in the event of a conflict. That is the nature of the domestic threat Iran poses to the UK.”

In 2015, a cell was reportedly caught stockpiling tonnes of explosive materials on the outskirts of London.

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For more political analysis – and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda – try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues free
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