North Korea could develop a missile capable of striking Britain within two years, MPs were warned on Tuesday (23 January).

In recent months, Kim Jong-un's regime have conducted various nuclear tests, sparking fears that Pyongyang may launch an attack.

Defence minister Lord Earl Howe told the cross-party Defence Committee that North Korea's nuclear capabilities have "significantly increased" in recent years and that in six to 18 months the country could have "an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the coast of the United States or indeed ourselves".

He added that Kim's programme is not believed to be "directed at the UK" but that nevertheless the threat should be taken "very seriously."

"The UK has substantial interests in that region – there are many UK citizens based in that region, either permanently or temporarily – so clearly UK interests are engaged in this whole arena. That has to be taken very seriously."

As there are so many UK citizens living in the region, an evacuation plan is "under constant review", Lord Howe said.

Foreign Office minister Mark Field told MPs that North Korea's "illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons does inevitably pose a serious and growing threat to the international peace and security".

He said that said the UN and international community continue to put a "huge amount of pressure" on North Korea "through all the means that we can".

If Pyongyang were to launch a nuclear weapon, it would be "met with an overwhelming response by an absolutely united world," Lord Howe said.

"The United States, South Korea and others have formidable military forces in the region," he said. "Any rational person would be deterred in the knowledge that use of a nuclear device would be catastrophic for them."

North Korea Kim Jong-un
In recent months, Kim Jong-un's regime has launched several sophisticated missile tests, sparking fears that Pyongyang may launch a nuclear attack. KCNA via Reuters