Johnson seeks to appease frustrated MPs over Afghanistan withdrawal

UK politics & policy updates

Boris Johnson sought to appease a frustrated House of Commons on Monday as he revealed that more than 300 Afghans who had worked with British troops remained stranded in the country following the withdrawal of international forces.

The prime minister’s backbenchers called for an overhaul of UK foreign policy and he was criticised over the government’s failure to set out a clear evacuation plan for those left at the mercy of the Taliban.

Johnson said his government would do “everything possible” to resettle 311 Afghans who had worked for the UK military and other entities, under the government’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap).

Of the 311 still stuck in the country, Johnson told MPs that only 192 had responded to calls put out by the UK government to help secure their escape. The whereabouts of those who had not answered are unknown.

“Let me say to anyone who we’ve made commitments to and who is currently in Afghanistan — we are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and as soon as routes are available we will do everything possible to help you to reach safety,” he said during a Commons debate on Afghanistan.

Theresa May, Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, warned Johnson that the terrorist threat to the UK had increased following the withdrawal of troops and challenged him to support all those involved in counter-terrorism work.

Johnson replied that he has “no direct information as yet of any increase to the threat” and pledged to make every effort to make sure “our counter-terrorist agents have the resources they need to keep us safe”.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the House of Commons defence committee, was one of several Conservative MPs to criticise the government. 

Warning of a “void of leadership” in the west, Ellwood called for a “complete overhaul of Whitehall” to upgrade strategic thinking and foreign policy.

Johnny Mercer, a Tory MP and former defence minister, accused the prime minister of “consistently” failing to support military veterans. “He knows and I know that he has consistently failed to take the measures required to make that a reality for veterans in communities like mine,” Mercer claimed.

The government on August 18 promised to set up an Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme to take in up to 20,000 Afghan citizens, including up to 5,000 in the first year. Around 15,000 Afghans have been airlifted to the UK since August 13 but only 8,000 are potential applicants.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the government’s handling of the crisis as a “national disgrace”, accusing ministers of failing to set out a concrete plan to assist stranded Afghans. “We have a prime minister incapable of international leadership, just when we need it most,” he told the Commons.

Johnson said the UK would continue to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on the Taliban to secure a safe passage for eligible Afghans to leave the country. Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, told MPs he had held talks last week with Qatar and Pakistan to help oversee a route out.

British officials said a Qatari-Turkish-led deal with the Taliban was the focus of efforts to secure the reopening of Kabul airport. “It’s not going to be an easy process but this is the most plausible route,” said one person with knowledge of the talks in Doha last week.


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