Boris faces a backlash from Tory MPs over Afghanistan

16 August 2021

6:01 PM

16 August 2021

6:01 PM

After the Taliban took over Kabul and announced victory in Afghanistan, a scramble is underway by diplomats and many Afghans to flee the country. There are videos overnight of distressing scenes at Kabul airport where crowds have assembled in an attempt to get out. The US embassy has since issued an advisory to American citizens and Afghan nationals not to travel to the airport until notified.

As the chaos unfolds – and both UK and US estimates on the likely speed of the Taliban advance prove embarrassingly wide of the mark – anger is building among MPs over the government’s handling of the situation. Dominic Raab has flown back from his holiday early and Parliament will sit on Wednesday for an emergency session to debate the next move.

Those steps have come far too late for many Tory MPs who feel the U.K. has already effectively made the decision to let the Taliban take power. Former Defence minister Johnny Mercer hit out on Sunday night saying Britain alongside the US is to blame for the collapse of Afghanistan. ‘We were the second biggest troop contributor, we lost British soldiers and to lay this at the feet of the Americans exclusively is a huge cop out. We have abandoned them,’ he said.

Yet the response from Boris Johnson and his defence Secretary Ben Wallace suggest little appetite for further intervention. The Prime Minister used a clip on Sunday to confirm that a power change was underway – suggesting that he saw no military solution. Instead, Johnson said the focus ought to be preventing ‘Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror’. As the Taliban takes hold, it is currently unclear how Johnson plans to do this from afar. This morning, Ben Wallace said ‘it was not on the cards’ when asked whether the U.K. would go back after withdrawing. Johnson is instead calling for international co-operation, calling on countries not to independently recognise the new government.

The U.K. government focus in the immediate term is on evacuations, with Wallace telling Sky News that the target is for the military to evacuate 1,200 to 1,500 British nationals, diplomats and Afghan interpreters a day. Johnson is facing questions as to how many Afghans he will allow to the U.K. – and the route for doing so – given that many of these people risked their lives to help Western allies and now find themselves in a very vulnerable situation. Over the weekend, the government appeared to perform a U-turn on plans to pause the Chevening scholarship programme over paperwork time constraints.

With both Labour and senior Tories calling for ‘all possible’ measures to be looked at, the debate on Wednesday could easily descend into a simple blame game. But more difficult forJohnson’s government is the charge of inaction if – as many now view inevitable – the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate in the coming days.

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