Dominic Raab has been urged to “find a backbone and resign” after MPs criticised his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
Labour told the Foreign Secretary the coordination between his department and the Ministry of Defence to assist people seeking to flee Afghanistan is “still appalling” despite the efforts of some “very hardworking” civil servants.
The SNP’s Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) went a step further when asking why Mr Raab went on holiday to Crete despite concerns being raised in July over the future of Afghanistan.
He added: “When’s he going to find a backbone and resign?”
But Mr Raab replied: “He referred to the risk report that the management board received in July, it’s a standard monthly report, it goes to senior officials.
“It didn’t contain any novel or new intelligence assessment.
“What the July document made clear was that our central planning assumption at the time was the peace process in Afghanistan would probably run for a further six months.
“So we followed all that advice while at the same time preparing our contingency plans for the evacuation.”
The Taliban retook control of nearly all of Afghanistan by mid-August.
Mr Raab repeatedly stressed the UK will not recognise the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan and noted his “scepticism is quite deep” about their assurances.
But he told MPs: “There is some evidence, in relation to the engagement we had on the ground in relation to the airport, it is possible to have a rational, constructive engagement and be able to test whether they will keep their word.”
Lottery of life
Labour’s Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) earlier warned that the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme “is going to end up as a lottery of life and death”.
She asked about the number of Afghan citizens “who want and need to flee here from Afghanistan and have already asked”.
Ms Harman said: “How will the Government in practice decide between those who will be the lucky 5,000 and be allowed to come here and those who, though meeting the criteria, will because of the 5,000 cap be refused and face a terrible fate at the hands of the Taliban?
“I think the reality is unless they increase the 5,000 cap, the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme is going to end up as a lottery of life and death.”
Mr Raab replied: “I think she’s right to say frankly even if we doubled or tripled the quota, the number of people fleeing Afghanistan is going to outstrip what the UK would be able to take alone.”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “The coordination between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, despite some very hardworking civil servants on the ground who are working round the clock, is still appalling.”
She also asked about the number of calls handled by the crisis centre.
The Foreign Secretary said: “Since August 11, (the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office crisis centre) has handled more than 44,000 calls.
“We surged 45 members of FCDO staff and 35 staff from other departments.
“Since August 19, we have answered well over 90% – 93% – of the total number received, and every day since the 24th, our call handlers have answered more than 94% of the calls that were made.
“And just to give the honourable lady a sense, since August 20 average wait times have been less than a minute.”
Mr Raab also told MPs there is “clearly a difference” between the Taliban and terrorist groups such as Isis-K – the affiliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan – and al Qaida.
He added: “Indeed, there is suspicion that the Abbey Gate attack from Isis-K, that part of the intention was to target the Taliban.”