The UK, along with other European countries, has formally recognised Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as its acting president.
Mr Guaido is challenging Nicolas Maduro for the presidency in a move that has been backed by most Western powers.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted the announcement, saying other “European allies” have taken the step to help end a “humanitarian crisis” in the South American country.
He said: “The United Kingdom now recognises Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela, until credible presidential elections can be held.
“The people of Venezuela have suffered enough. It is time for a new start, with free and fair elections in accordance with international democratic standards.
“The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end. Those who continue to violate the human rights of ordinary Venezuelans under an illegitimate regime will be called to account. The Venezuelan people deserve a better future.”
A spokesman for prime minister Theresa May said that the UK would also “look at all options” including the possibility of sanctions.
Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Austria have also declared their support for the 35-year-old leader of the country’s national assembly after Mr Maduro missed an eight-day deadline for calling a new presidential election.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit to Tokyo: “As of yesterday, no presidential election had been called. Therefore Guaido is the person we are talking to and we expect him to begin an election process as soon as possible.
“He is the legitimate interim president for this task from Germany’s point of view and from the point of view of several European countries.
“We hope that this process can be carried out as quickly and peacefully as possible.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged Mr Guaido to call an election as soon as possible.
Mr Sanchez said Spain was “working for the return of full democracy in Venezuela” and would be putting together a humanitarian aid programme for the country.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter: “Venezuelans have the right to express themselves freely and democratically.
“France recognises @jguaido as ‘interim president’ to implement an electoral process.”
Mr Maduro still has the backing of Russia, China and Turkey and has been kept in power by the support of Venezuela’s military.
The Kremlin was quick to condemn European countries for recognising Mr Guaido as interim president.
It said the move amounted to foreign meddling and that Venezuelans should resolve their political crisis, not other countries.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said “attempts to legitimise usurped power” constituted “interference in Venezuela’s affairs and would not result in a “peaceful, effective and lasting settlement of the crisis the Venezuelans are going through”.
Mr Guaido made a plea to European countries last week to recognise him as leader to help “rebuild” the country after soaring inflation and violent protests.
In an interview with Sky’s Stuart Ramsay, he said: “I think it’s not just about the help of the United States, it’s ultimately at an international level. With European countries that are willing to help rebuild.”
Mr Guaido declared himself interim president a fortnight after Mr Maduro was sworn in for another term as leader.
He told crowds in the capital Caracas that he would steer the country until new elections were held.
Mr Maduro’s time in office has been marked by economic collapse, hyperinflation and shortages of many basic goods and medicines.
Mr Guaido stunned the world when on 23 January when he declared himself as acting president at a rally and declared Mr Maduro’s presidency “illegitimate” and founded on flawed elections.
Despite pressure from most Western countries, including America where Donald Trump has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and threatened military intervention, Mr Maduro remains determined to cling on to power.
In an interview on Spanish television broadcast on Sunday he was asked about the EU deadline for calling an election. He said: “I don’t accept ultimatums from anybody. Why should the EU be giving ultimatums to a country?”
He was also asked if the crisis could explode into civil war: “Today no-one could answer that question with certainty.
“Everything depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire [the US] and its Western allies.
“We ask that nobody intervenes in our internal affairs… and we prepare ourselves to defend our country.”
(c) Sky News 2019: UK formally recognises Juan Guaido as new Venezuelan president