Keir Starmer has criticised the government’s resettlement plans for Afghan refugees, lashing out at Boris Johnson’s “appalling” judgement.
In an emergency debate in a recalled House of Commons, the Labour leader questioned the government’s preparation for the unfolding crisis – and coruscated Dominic Raab for staying on holiday as Kabul fell.
The foreign secretary was on holiday in Crete until Sunday night, before rushing home to deal with the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.
“The government were wrong and complacent; the prime minister was wrong and complacent,” Starmer said. “When he wasn’t rewriting history the prime minister was displaying the same appalling judgement and complacency.
“Last week the response of the British ambassador to the Taliban arriving at the gates of Kabul was to personally process the paperwork for those that needed to flee. He is still there. And we thank him.
“The prime minister’s response to the Taliban arriving at the gates of Kabul was to go on holiday. No sense of the gravity of the situation. No leadership to drive international effort evacuation.”
Turning to Raab, Starmer added: “The foreign secretary shakes his head now but he stayed on holiday while our mission in Afghanistan was disintegrating.
“He didn’t even speak to ambassadors in the region as Kabul fell to the Taliban. You cannot coordinate an international response from the beach.”
"You cannot coordinate an international response from the beach."— PoliticsHome (@politicshome) August 18, 2021
Keir Starmer criticised Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab for going on holiday as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated pic.twitter.com/4eNhAHS2ui
Opening the Commons debate, Johnson said said it is an “illusion” to think Britain alone could have prevented the collapse of Afghanistan after the US withdrew its forces.
As MPs returned to Westminster for an emergency sitting of Parliament, the prime minister denied the government had been unprepared for the Taliban takeover at the weekend.
He told a packed Commons chamber the priority now is to evacuate remaining British nationals and their allies.
Johnson said when ministers came to consider the UK’s options after the US announced its intention to withdraw, they came up against the “hard reality” that there was no will among allies to continue without the Americans.
“The West could not continue this US-led mission, a mission conceived and executed in support of America,” he said.
“I really think that it is an illusion to believe that there is appetite amongst any of our partners for a continued military presence or for a military solution imposed by Nato in Afghanistan. That idea ended with the combat mission in 2014.
“I do not believe that today deploying tens of thousands of British troops to fight the Taliban is an option that, no matter how sincerely people may advocate it – and I appreciate their sincerity – but I do not believe that that is an option that would commend itself either to the British people or to this House.
“We must deal with the position as it is now, accepting what we have achieved and what we have not achieved.”
‘Difficult logistical operation’
There were cries of disbelief from MPs when Johnson rejected claims that the events of the weekend had caught the government unawares.
He said planning had been under way for a number of months and that a decision to commission an emergency handling centre at Kabul airport was taken two weeks ago.
“I think it would be fair to say that the events in Afghanistan have unfolded and the collapse has been faster than even the Taliban themselves predicted,” he said.
“What is not true is to say the government was unprepared or did not foresee this. It was certainly part of our planning – the very difficult logistical operation for the withdrawal of UK nationals has been under preparation for many months.”
Since you are here
Since you are here, we wanted to ask for your help.
Journalism in Britain is under threat. The government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and our media is run by a handful of billionaires, most of whom reside overseas and all of them have strong political allegiances and financial motivations.
Our mission is to hold the powerful to account. It is vital that free media is allowed to exist to expose hypocrisy, corruption, wrongdoing and abuse of power. But we can't do it without you.
If you can afford to contribute a small donation to the site it will help us to continue our work in the best interests of the public. We only ask you to donate what you can afford, with an option to cancel your subscription at any point.
To donate or subscribe to The London Economic, click here.
The TLE shop is also now open, with all profits going to supporting our work.
The shop can be found here.
You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER .