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Boris Johnson, Prime Minister


With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the situation in Afghanistan and our enduring effort to provide sanctuary for those to whom we owe so much.

Since the House last met, our armed forces, diplomats and civil servants have completed the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, overcoming every possible challenge in the most harrowing conditions, bringing 15,000 people to safety in the UK and helping 36 other countries to airlift their own nationals. They faced the pressure of a remorseless deadline and witnessed a contemptible terrorist attack at the very gates of the airport, with two British nationals and 13 of our American allies among the dead. But they kept going, and in the space of a fortnight they evacuated our own nationals alongside Afghan friends of this country who guided, translated and served with our soldiers and officials, proving their courage and loyalty beyond doubt, sometimes in the heat of battle.

The whole House will join me in commending the courage and ingenuity of everyone involved in the Kabul airlift, one of the most spectacular operations in our country’s post-war military history. This feat exemplified the spirit of all 150,000 British servicemen and women who deployed in Afghanistan over the last two decades, of whom 457 laid down their lives and many others suffered trauma and injury. Thanks to their efforts, no terrorist attack against this country or any of our western allies has been launched from Afghanistan for 20 years. They fulfilled the first duty of the British armed forces: to keep our people safe. They and their families should take pride in everything they did.

Just as they kept us safe, so we shall do right by our veterans. In addition to the extra £3 million that we have invested in mental health support through NHS Op Courage, we are providing another £5 million to assist the military charities that do such magnificent work, with the aim of ensuring that no veteran’s request for help will go unanswered. The evacuation, Op Pitting, will now give way to Operation Warm Welcome, with an equal effort to help our Afghan friends to begin their new lives here in the United Kingdom, and recognising the strength of feeling across the House about the plight of individual Afghans.

Years before this episode, we began to fulfil our obligation to those Afghans who had helped us, bringing 1,400 to the UK. Then, in April this year, we expanded our efforts by opening the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. Even before the onset of Operation Pitting, we had brought around 2,000 to the UK between June and August—and our obligation lives on. Let me say to anyone to whom we have made commitments 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.

Over and above this effort, the UK is formally launching a separate resettlement programme, providing a safe and legal route for up to 20,000 Afghans in the region over the coming years, with 5,000 in the first year. We are upholding Britain’s finest tradition of welcoming those in need. I emphasise that under this scheme we will of course work with the United Nations and aid agencies to identify those whom we should help, as we have done in respect of those who fled the war in Syria, but we will also include Afghans who have contributed to civil society or who face a particular risk from the Taliban, for example because of their role in standing up for democracy and human rights or because of their gender, sexuality or religion. All who come to our country through this safe and legal route will receive not a five-year visa, but indefinite leave to remain.

Our support will include free English courses for adults, and 300 university scholarships. We will shortly be writing to local authorities and the devolved Administrations with details of funding for extra school places and long-term accommodation across the UK. I am grateful for everything that they are doing, and, of course, for the work of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is the Minister for Afghan resettlement. I am delighted—but not surprised—that across our country, people have been fundraising for our Afghan friends, and we have received numerous offers of help from charities and ordinary families alike. Anyone who wishes to join that effort can do so through gov.uk.

Our first duty is the security of the United Kingdom, and if the new regime in Kabul wants international recognition and access to the billions of dollars currently frozen in overseas accounts, we and our friends will hold them to their agreement to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming an incubator for terrorism. We will insist on safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave, and respect for the rights of women and girls. Our aim is to rally the strongest international consensus behind those principles, so that as far as possible the world speaks to the Taliban with one voice. To that end, I called an emergency meeting of the G7 leaders which made these aims the basis of our common approach, and the UK helped to secure a UN Resolution, passed by the Security Council last week, making the same demands. Later this month, at the UN General Assembly in New York, I will work with UN Secretary-General Guterres and other leaders to widen that consensus still further. We will judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words, and will use every economic, political and diplomatic lever to protect our own countries from harm and to help the Afghan people. We have already doubled the UK’s humanitarian and development assistance to £286 million this year, including funds to help people in the region.

On Saturday, we shall mark the 20th anniversary of the reason why we went into Afghanistan in the first place: the terrorist attacks on the United States which claimed 2,977 lives, including those of 67 Britons. If anyone is still tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in 20 years, tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school; tell them that this country and the western world were protected from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan throughout that period; and tell them that we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history. Eight times, the Royal Air Force rescued more than 400 people on board a single plane—the most who have ever travelled on an RAF aircraft in its 103-year history—helping thousands of people in fear for their lives, helping thousands to whom this country owes so much, and thereby revealing the fundamental values of the United Kingdom.

There are very few countries that have the military capability to do what we have just done, and fewer still who would have felt the moral imperative to act in the same way. We can be proud of our armed forces for everything they have achieved, and for the legacy they leave behind. What they did was in the best traditions of this country. I commend this statement to the House.


Arnold J. Appleby

MP for North Bedfordshire (1979-Present)
Shadow Foreign Secretary

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Keir Starmer, Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition


I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement.

The heroes on the ground in Operation Pitting are the best of us: the ambassador stayed to process every case that he could, paratroopers lifted people from the crush, Afghan soldiers continued to serve alongside us to the end, and thousands of others risked their lives to help others to escape. They faced deadly violence and deliberately-engineered chaos with courage, calm and determination. Thanks to their remarkable efforts, thousands were evacuated, British nationals have returned safely to their families and Afghan friends are starting a new life here in Britain. Speaking directly to those who served in Operation Pitting, I say thank you: your service deserves recognition and honour and I hope that the Prime Minister will accept Labour’s proposal to scrap the 30-day continuous service rule so that medals can be awarded for your bravery.

The entire Army, our armed forces and veterans deserve proper support for mental health. The new funding announced today is welcome, but it is unlikely to be enough. Previous funding was described as “scandalous” by the Select Committee, and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is still being cut. All those involved deserved political leadership equal to their service, but they were let down. They were let down on strategy. The Prime Minister underestimated the strength of the Taliban. Despite intelligence warnings that “rapid Taliban advances” could lead to the collapse of the Afghan security forces, a return to power of the Taliban and our embassy shutting down amid reduced security, the Government continued to act on the assumption that there was no path to military victory for the Taliban. Complacent and wrong.

Those involved were also let down by a lack of planning. Eighteen months passed between the Doha agreement and the fall of Kabul, yet as the Prime Minister now concedes, only 2,000 of the 8,000 people eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy—ARAP—scheme have been brought to Britain. A strategic review was published to much fanfare, but it did not mention the Taliban, NATO withdrawal or the Doha agreement. And the Prime Minister convened a G7 meeting on Afghanistan only after Kabul was lost.

Because of this lack of leadership, the Government have left behind many to whom we owe so much. In the last few weeks, MPs have had thousands of desperate calls from people trying to get to safety. Many remain in danger, including the Afghan guards who protected the British embassy. In my constituency—I am not alone; Members across the House will have had this—cases involve Afghans who applied for the ARAP scheme weeks and sometimes months ago and who were clearly eligible but were not processed quickly enough by this Government and did not make it to the planes. The stress levels for them and their families, and for all our teams and caseworkers, has been palpable in the last few weeks and months. A familiar and desperate story to many on both sides of the House.

The Government do not even know how many UK nationals and Afghans eligible under the ARAP scheme have been left behind to the cruelty of the Taliban. A national disgrace. Even if they could identify who they had left behind, the Government do not have a plan to get everybody out. Kabul airport remains closed to international flights, safe passage has not been created to Afghanistan’s neighbours and, whatever the Prime Minister says today, there is no international agreement on the resettlement of Afghan refugees. We have a Prime Minister incapable of international leadership, just when we need it most. I know that that is uncomfortable. The terrible attacks from ISIS-K highlight the new security threat, and the Government must act quickly to co-ordinate international partners to ensure that the Afghan Government’s collapse does not lead to a vacuum for terrorists to fill. There is also a desperate need for humanitarian support. A return to 2019 levels of aid spending is necessary, and where is the plan to ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands?

To those who have managed to escape Afghanistan and have arrived here in the UK, we say welcome: I know that you will give much to this country as you make it your new home. All you need is help and support. I am pleased that indefinite leave to remain will now be granted to all those who arrive by safe and legal routes. Local authorities across the country are trying to play their part, but they have been in the dark as to how many people they will be asked to support and what resources they will have to do so. We will look at the letter to which the Prime Minister referred and examine the details.

History will tell the tale of Operation Pitting as one of immense bravery. We are proud of all those who contributed. Their story is made even more remarkable by the fact that, while they were saving lives, our political leadership was missing in action.


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Mr Speaker, 

The bravery shown by our armed forces and other staff throughout Operation Pitting is certainly above reproach as both the Prime Minister and the Right Honourable Leader of the Opposition have said. It continues the tradition of excellence that brave men and women have shown during the operations in Afghanistan and around the world over the last twenty years. While I can understand that there are mixed feelings about why we are here today, particularly those who have paid the price, I can only echo the words by the Right Honourable Prime Minister that thanks to their efforts, their professionalism, their talent, and their sacrifices that we have all benefitted. 

I think it should also be recognised- as the Right Honourable Leader of the Opposition both attempts to and at the same time attempts to say the Government had no hand in it- that the herculean efforts of Operation Pitting were carried out with minimal loss of life while also making sure that we saved and provided support to as many as possible. We've seen aircraft loaded beyond their limits with people seeking to flee a Taliban force that exceeded expectations- and it was the pilots of the RAF that were among those getting them out. 

While the Opposition is already playing the role of Shadow Generals and acting like this should have been seen coming and that we should have known- the speed of the Taliban's advance through Afghanistan surprised everyone. On 8 July - barely more than two months ago - it was the US President that told the public that a takeover by the Taliban was not inevitable and that the Afghan forces were well-trained and filled with fire to defend their country from the Taliban. The Pentagon echoed this days later- that the Afghan defense forces were among the strongest, most well-trained, and most well-equipped in the world. So this idea that the Government was somehow complacent is apparently backed by intelligence that the Leader of the Opposition has that was not made available to apparently any other person. This is either the result of mental abilities beyond that which have been shown in this chamber or to the public before or is the result of a twisted hindsight that seeks to congratulate our forces on a job well done but also attack the Government for something over which they had no control. 

It should also be noted that this Operation was clearly carried out within the framework of the Doha Agreement. Whatever our opinions are of that Agreement, it was one that was made, one that the world counted on, and one that sought to end a decades-long occupation of Afghanistan that came at a great cost. And it was a formal agreement that was rightfully upheld; unless we were prepared for a permanent occupation of our own, with greater commitment than had been made to date, we were fulfilling our promises. And yet while we did that- lived up to what was promised- we also carried out one of the largest logistical efforts and operations that we have seen in decades. And this Government absolutely deserves some credit for that. 

Now, for the aftermath and for what's next. Here those stellar abilities to predict the past future fail the Leader of the Opposition. While the Leader says that we need to do more to take leadership and fulfill our commitments, this Government has made clear that we will honour our commitments to those that have helped UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and to those who feel threatened by the new Taliban regime. While the Leader says we need plans to combat terrorism and ensure that Afghanistan does not become a new terrorist base, the Government has made clear that we will act as a leader in the international community- reaching out to our allies and to fellow democracies to not give up the efforts that we have made to ensure the Taliban regime is not one that is welcoming to terror leaders like they were before. This Government has made clear that those international efforts will focus on ensuring and securing safe passage for those that wish to leave- and ensure that they have a welcoming place here while we also join with our allies in ensuring that we are clear when it comes to recognition- or not- of this new regime. 

This Government took a situation that few foresaw, that no one wanted, and turned into a successful operation to save as many as we could. And the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are not forgetting those in Afghanistan that need our help. He has made it clear that we have moved mountains before in Operation Pitting- something the Opposition has already conceded- and that we will bring that same effort and laser-like focus on saving more lives and helping those who wish to escape Afghanistan know that they have a welcoming home here. This is what leadership looks like: to not just rest on our laurels, but to strive and push to do more for those who deserve it. 

That is what leadership looks like. And that is what this Government will be providing.

Anthony Edwards MP

MP for Banff and Buchan (2017 - ) | Conservative

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Mr. Speaker,

Allow me to echo what I imagine will be the sentiments of the whole House in expressing my gratitude and pride in the Armed servicemen and women who were on the ground through Operation Pitting and the wider Afghan mission. Their bravery and immense sacrifice, for 457 troops that ultimate sacrifice was paid for with their lives, can feel futile. But to those watching I want to make clear that your efforts were not in vain. There are countless people who are here today because of that sacrifice, whether that is those of us at home who are safe from the terrorist threat that emerged in Afghanistan, women who were able to receive the education they needed to live a more prosperous life and Afghans alive because of UK landmine clearing and water sanitation efforts. 

It is easy to give into despair when so much of the progress we fought and shed blood for has evaporated right in front of us. But we should all stress today that British bravery and sacrifice was not in vain. From beginning to the end, we saw immense heroism, courage and professionalism: thank you. 

And that thanks should also be extended to journalists, aid workers and UK diplomats in Afghanistan who have also worked tirelessly to save lives, let alone our fantastic Ambassador in Afghanistan who stayed behind at great risk to the very last possible minute to get everyone he could past the line. 

This indescribable public service feels like such a contrast to a government that throughout this process has shown complacency, weakness and selfishness. 

And to have government Ministers and the backbenchers that prop them up come to this House and bray about showing leadership rubs salt into that wound. 

The government have a tendency to rewrite history Mr. Speaker. A recent example that comes to mind is the Prime Minister claiming he conveniently sacked the Member for West Suffolk a day after he defended him and made the conscious decision to keep him in Cabinet after he was caught breaking the coronavirus rules he made. Not content with painting mirages for the British public, he wants to try and do it to desperate Afghans too. So now we're hearing that the former Foreign Secretary showed leadership from his Crete resort as Afghanistan fell and thousands of British and Afghan lives were put into danger. 

We all know the Prime Minister has a history of making grandiose comments he can never follow through on, Mr. Speaker - and we have a garden bridge and a road to Northern Ireland to show for it. But when thousands of Afghan lives depend on those promises, the government's pattern of promising and not delivering cannot do. Promises on refugee resettlement programmes cannot be believed when we look at a Prime Minister who scrapped the Dubs scheme after promising not to, and that's before we acknowledge the United Kingdom's paltry offer to begin with. We rightly encouraged women and girls in Afghanistan to take advantage of an education and to strive for positions of power. The same women and girls we supported are the ones in the most danger as the Taliban target them: the idea they can wait until we do something "down the line" would be laughable if it was not so bewildering and cruel.

The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary could have worked with key allies to create a global resettlement scheme which could be acting now to provide safe and legal routes for the most vulnerable in Afghanistan - former government employees, LGBT+ people, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and women. Instead, they have been told to wait and see. We know the Taliban will not wait and see, Mr. Speaker.

And it's clear there is no strategy to support Afghanistan through what will clearly become a humanitarian disaster. I note the Prime Minister didn't even bother to mention international or humanitarian aid in his speech, months after he cut Afghanistan's aid budget in half: a decision which we now know will have devastating consequences and will leave Britain looking like it would abandon the people it pledged to protect at the most critical moment, diminishing our image on the world stage when we were promised a global Britain. It is important that Britain's aid budget does not end up in the hands of the Taliban, but that brings up questions as to whether the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary have even attempted to create the foundations of an aid strategy for what will be chilling and devastating future months. We have no idea if the Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister have liaised with the United Nations, NGOs or our allies to execute that plan or to even discern the capacity the United Kingdom and the international community have to deliver aid across Afghanistan in a way which is as swift as it is smart. 

We've heard talk of 'Shadow Generals' from the government benches. We did not need Generals to warn us of the worries of a potentially destabilised Afghanistan, Mr. Speaker. Both Conservative backbenchers and Labour frontbenchers, including the Labour First Secretary of State, warned the government of the increasingly fragile picture in Afghanistan. It fell on deaf ears. 

We have some of the best military minds, we are a leading member of NATO and yet the government is too busy creating excuses instead of creating a plan. It makes us look weak, feckless and unstable right in front of our enemies, including the Taliban regime itself.

Instead of telling the British people how powerless we are, the Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister could be working to build up the intelligence framework beyond Kabul and leverage against the Taliban regime to promote the safety of Afghans and for us here at home and preventing Afghanistan becoming a breeding ground for global terror. 

These were plans the government should have had in place months ago. And yet they still cannot be bothered to cobble it together today.

The Foreign Secretary not even bothering to pick up the phone to his desperate Afghan counterpart because he was enjoying a £1,000 a night holiday isn't a shameful exception for this government - it epitomises a shameful norm. Uncaring and unbothered as British citizens' lives are at risk and Britain's global reputation threatens being permanently damaged. 

That isn't leadership. It is a dereliction of the duty that British soldiers, aid workers and diplomats have shown in spades at this devastating and shameful time. It is just a shame we are left without a government that can support them.

Ruth Murphy.

Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton (1974-).

Opposition Whip (1982-).

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Mr Speaker, 

First of all I like to Thank not only the British troops but though of the Americans the afghans that fought and supported us and are other allies for there service in this long war and who help during this evacuation and I send my Prays and condolences to the families of though that didn't survived this war and toughs that did but suffer from the effects of injuries and Ptsd.

Second of all I would like to thank to not only the government but our allies and our troops as well for doing the best they could in regards to a terrible of situation. 

Third I am hoping that We along with our nato allies and the world learned a lesson from this and steps can be taken to ensure something like this never happens again.

Fourth the Leader of the Opposition try to play both sides by both acknowledging the success of operation Pitting and claiming the government Should have seen this coming. Of course the Leader of the Opposition seem to forget no one foresaw this the American President and his defense department claimed that the tailban takeover was not inevitable. The Afghan Army had the means to defeat the tailban the weapons armor  vehicles all of it but lacked a will not event he army but the government expect for the Vice President Amrullah Saleh and his National Resistance Front of Afghanistan who effort I salute. The President fled his country at the time of need with as some reports claimed  "four cars and a helicopter full of cash". This is why tailban won not because of the Her Majesty government or the united states government or any Government expect the Afghanistan government. 

Fifth I do hope this government do intend on making sure the the Refugee are vetted as best as possible in regards to the current situation as well ensure the refugees are integrated as best as possible as well.

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Mr. Speaker, 

I'd like to begin by pausing to honor the lives of the 13 American soldiers who were killed by the Taliban while participating in the evacuation of Kabul. While they are not British citizens, I have no doubt that they worked alongside our soldiers in the country and treated our troops like fellow countrymen. For decades, the Anglo-American alliance has stood in defiance of tyranny, has advanced our shared democratic principles, and fought tirelessly for peace and security. In the spirit of that enduring alliance, I pray for our American brothers and sisters amidst this tragedy, and offer the heartfelt thanks of the British people for the valiant service of these 13 men and women. 

The Kabul airlift and surrounding evacuation campaign brings to an end the culmination of 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The war effort began in 2001, five governments ago, and has gone on so long that the children of the British soldiers who first went to Afghanistan are now old enough to be enlisted soldiers themselves. The circumstances surrounding the timeline of the withdrawal should be debated, and they certainly should be scrutinized by Parliament. That will, and must, occur in due time. Today, however, I think it is entirely appropriate to focus our attention on the unparalleled heroism of the British soldiers and volunteer personnel who have saved the lives of thousands of Afghan nationals who risked imminent death at the hands of the Taliban. 

Operating Pitting was a clear and objective success; a success that occurred because of the talent, bravery, and grit of the British Armed Forces. Evacuating thousands, 15,000 to be precise, of Afghan nationals in the span of weeks is an incredible feat that will go down in history as one of the greatest humanitarian efforts led by the United Kingdom. In concert with our American allies, we responding to a rapidly evolving situation that the top American military and security experts themselves did not anticipate occurring. As my friend the Member for Banff and Buchann put so well - no one anticipated Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban as quickly as it did. But when we realized the extent of the Taliban's power, we jumped to action and organized a national effort to protect innocent Afghan women, children, and minorities who faced immediate danger. Today, Mr. Speaker, is a day of pride for all British citizens. 

The Government should of course be scrutinized, but I can't help but find the Opposition's arguments against the Government's actions somewhat ridiculous. The Member for Liverpool West Derby, in his usual attempt to find fault where there is none, insists that the Prime Minister should have worked to, "create a global resettlement scheme." He would have preferred that the Prime Minister huddled with Joe and Angela in some air conditioned room, working out a 50 point plan on refugee resettlement, debating the intricacies of rescuing a LGBTQ Afghan versus a Christian one over a bottle of wine. That idea sounds nice on paper, but in reality, it would have cost the lives of countless Afghans who didn't have the time to wait for the West to craft a comprehensive plan. While Kabul burned and the Taliban was hanging people in the streets of every major city, the Member from Liverpool would have preferred the Government sit on their hands and ponder the appropriate response. Thank God we did not heed that advice, Mr. Speaker. Action was required and it was required immediately, without pause or hesitation. This Government provided that decisive action, it was carried out by the brave men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and thousands of Afghan refugees are alive today because of it. That is something the entire House should celebrate. 

Of course, Mr. Speaker, there will be a time in the near future where the Government should begin to carefully examine the actions we take in the future, and the consequences of Afghanistan's fall to the Taliban. There are two key areas where I believe the Government should take immediate action to ensure we promote our nation's national security and ensure that we learn from the events of the past. 

First, I believe it is of vital national importance that we have a strong understanding of who we are allowing to relocate to the United Kingdom. I admire the Prime Minister's goal of welcoming 50,000 refugees to Britain over the next few years, and welcome his commitment to prioritize refugees who either assisted the United Kingdom in our war effort against the Taliban or who come from minority communities that are now most at risk of facing Taliban persecution. With that being said, there are obvious and understandable security concerns to accepting so many refugees from a foreign, war torn country at one time. We should pay particular attention to single, adult-aged males who may have ties to radical groups in Afghanistan and who could pose a security threat to communities here in the United Kingdom. Again, I welcome the Prime Minister's work to ensure Britain does our part in responding to this humanitarian crisis. But we must engage in this effort in a manner that protects the safety, security, and well being of the British public. 

Second, I know I speak for many people across the country when I say I am very concerned at the rapid pace at which Afghanistan fell in light of the substantial investment the British taxpayer has provided to the Afghan government over the past two decades. Britain has contributed billions of pounds in support to the government in Kabul, and massive amounts of military equipment and technology. Despite all of that aid, and despite the even larger sums of money contributed by the Americans, the Taliban was able to quickly rout the Afghan military and regain control of the country after two decades of being out of power. President Ghani has fled the country, potentially with massive amounts of money, and the Taliban has now taken control of an incredible arsenal of Western military equipment that positions them to be the most well-armed terror group in modern history. By all accounts, the allied attempt to build a solid nation state in Afghanistan has failed, and that failure has come at the cost of billions of pounds of taxpayer money. The British people deserve a full accounting of the scale of money and military equipment we lost in this effort, how we're going to protect our interests in the Middle East and at home now that the Taliban is in possession of this equipment, and what the Government will do to prevent future losses of this scale. 

I once again commend the Prime Minister for his clear and firm statement, and join him in celebrating the valiant actions of our Armed Forces. We are better off because of the service and sacrifices made by the men and women who served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and I have no doubt that Britain's global interests will continue to be well served by their efforts. 

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Mr. Speaker,

I'm going to have to respond to the statement the Member for Rugby because to me it just epitomises the learned helplessness of this government which leaves us looking inept and inactive on the world stage.  

He mischaracterises my statement by saying I wanted the Prime Minister to merely discuss a refugee resettlement scheme while Afghanistan plunged into chaos and to do little to nothing else. That's wrong on two fronts. 

Firstly, in the shorter term, the Honourable Gentleman acts as if the United Kingdom had two choices: an evacuation mission in Afghanistan or establishing a refugee programme, preferably an international one, that would provide urgent assistance to former government employees, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities, women and LGBT people. We know that is a completely false dichotomy. Government consists of more than one cog, and any Defence Secretary and Prime Minister worth their salt have been perfectly able to manage Operation Pitting and ensured government was working towards other aims. 

But where was the Home Secretary? Nowhere to be seen.

Where was the Foreign Secretary? On a beach in Crete.

And the Permanent Secretaries for the MoD, Home Office and Foreign Office were also too busy catching a tan and holidaying. 

All while, as the Gentleman outlines, Kabul burned and the Taliban hanged people in every city.

Mr. Speaker, where was the initiative, the urgency or discipline from government in this moment of crisis? If the Foreign Secretary had time to go on holiday, and if the Home Secretary has the time to... well, we're still not quite sure what she is doing with her time other than briefing right wing media outlets, we could have had the foundations of a global plan for refugees in place by now if not an entire implementable strategy. Instead, the Prime Minister has told 20,000 Afghan employees, women, gay people, journalists, Christians, and many others who put their life on the line to help the British mission that they will be able to come to the UK "in time." All while, as the Honourable Gentleman has said, Kabul burns and people are hanged in every city. It's so pathetic that the government only this month has appointed a Minister tasked with overseeing Afghan refugees. 

We do not have a wider intelligence strategy, a strategy to deal with the Taliban regime, a strategy for aid or a strategy for regime. And every moment Tory backbenchers craft excuses the more that becomes clear - and the more they insult the British public. 

But let's take the Member for Rugby at his word, Mr. Speaker. After all, it is not out of the realm of possibility that this government is too inept to establish a comprehensive plan or do more than one thing at a time.

The problem with even that proposition is the government had months to prepare for this. We're told by the government they need to be cut slack as there was flawed intelligence. But we know Mr. Speaker the flaw in the intelligence was not if Kabul would fall but how fast it would fall. The decision to withdraw was made eighteen months prior to withdrawal at Doha and four months prior the timetable for withdrawal was established, and yet no preparations had been made for a worst case scenario or, it seems, any scenario at all.

The consequences of this incompetence are incomprehensible, Mr. Speaker.

In July, the Shadow First Secretary of State warned the government they were not adequately preparing for that withdrawal. In May, the Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces was making those same warnings after the Foreign Select Committee warned of the grave consequences of the government's lack of preparedness for the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan. This was not something the government received no warning for, and so this failure and this shame is theirs and theirs alone. 

Our armed forces cobbled together, at the very last minute, a record breaking evacuation programme we can all be proud of. But think about what we could have had if more preparation had been made from the government. Ministers would not be on the airwaves at the very least admitting that people would be left behind and would die, and we would have a comprehensive strategy to deal with this dark new reality that faces the global community. We would be able to have the framework for a strategy on refugees, on aid, on security and a wider strategy for dealing with the Taliban, all while enacting an evacuation programme that could have saved the necessary British and Afghan lives alike.

But that is not the world we live in. The government should hang their head in shame for that, and Members like the Gentleman for Rugby should join them for encouraging their delusion. 

Ruth Murphy.

Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton (1974-).

Opposition Whip (1982-).

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  • Richard locked and unlocked this topic

Mr. Speaker, 

I'd like to begin by paying tribute to all service personnel who participated in Operation Pitting and to our allies who bravely assisted our troops, in particular I join the Honourable Members for Dudley North and Rugby in paying tribute to those 13 Americans who sadly paid the ultimate price to protect others. Having worked alongside US service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan I know of the bravery they displayed there and I know they will have showed the same fortitude in Kabul during the evacuation.

However, this entire situation has served to show us that we cannot rely on the US political leadership to single-handedly uphold the security of ourselves and our allies. Whilst I do condemn the decision to leave in the manner we saw: overnight disappearance acts carried out by American forces and abandoned equipment and bases just left sitting for the approaching Taliban. Make no mistake this was the complete abandonment of an allied government to a group of radical insurgents; we must also acknowledge that this humiliation has highlighted that despite our troops professionalism we as a government must do more to support and bolster our Armed Forces. This is a debate which must and will be had in this place in the weeks and months to come however, I'm sure we all agree that today should be a day of tribute – tribute to the heroism and the incredible job that our Armed Forces do.

The success of Operation Pitting is a testament to the sheer brilliance and professionalism of the British Armed Forces. Evacuating roughly 15,000 Afghan nationals in the span of weeks is a truly amazing feat and one that required tremendous willpower, courage and ingenious planning. I'm sure the whole nation will join all of us here in the house today in a feeling of immense pride for our Armed Forces.

I also wish to pay particular tribute to Sir Laurie Bristow, our Ambassador to Afghanistan, and the other civilian staff who stayed behind at Kabul airport during the evacuation in order to continue processing the visa applications of those fleeing the approaching Taliban forces. I don’t think anyone would have criticised him for leaving but the fact he chose to stay behind is a testament to his personal character and resilience. I hope that the Prime Minister will commit to finding some way of recognising the bravery of all British Military and Civilian personnel who have contributed to the evacuation efforts,

Whilst it is absolutely right that Government’s actions during this be properly scrutinised, but this is not what the members opposite are providing. They are clutching at straws as they fail to come up with legitimate failures they can attribute to the Government in this situation. Whilst the members opposite would love to spend all day discussing coronavirus rules, the failure to have a strategy in place for a situation nobody was aware was going to happen months before it did – we stand here paying tribute to the fact of the matter – this fact being that despite limited time and resources our Armed Forces and Civil Service managed to put together a programme that has undoubtably saved the lives of thousands of innocent Afghans. Proper scrutiny involves knowing when to admit that the best possible course of action was taken and that these actions produced success.

However, Mr. Speaker, it is right that over the coming weeks and months this Government must examine precisely what failures led to the need for our Armed Forces to carry out these actions, and what consequences the fall of Afghanistan will have for our nation. We must examine what steps we must take in order to prevent any such catastrophe from occurring in the future.

The member for Liverpool West Derby said that government had months to prepare for this, and that the intelligence was not if Kabul would fall but how fast it would fall. This is not accurate, as mentioned by colleagues on this side of the house – the intelligence our allies talked about stated that a takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban was not an inevitability. We also were not made aware of the rapid exit of US forces. I am thankful it is this Government that led the nation through this difficult process and not people like the member for Liverpool West Derby who would have sat on their thumbs with no clue of how to manage such a situation. 

However, we must not shy away from examine the intelligence failures which prevented us from becoming aware of the speed and force at which the Taliban offensive progressed – we must ensure that our Intelligence Community is able to independently verify intelligence supplied by foreign allies and reinforce their ability to provide correct and accurate information to our chain of command. In addition, we must also seek to ensure that our intelligence on the actions of our allies is also accurate and correct. 

I commend the Prime Minister for his statement to this house, and I join him in his support of the incredible humanitarian efforts of our Armed Forces and civil servants. I am reassured by his decisive actions and I firmly feel that Britain’s national security and our international presence are in capable hands. 

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Mr. Speaker, 

While I thank the Honourable Member for Penrith and the Border for his interjection, I’ll quote what the Foreign Secretary said on the sum of UK intelligence: 

He said and I quote “The central proposition was that, given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you would see a steady deterioration from that point, and that it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year.”

When, not if. 

And despite having months there was no clear contingency planning, no clear preparation for a worst case scenario, nothing. The Honourable Gentleman should know this. It is the Foreign Affairs Select Committee he sits on which gave this warning to the government. I’m afraid his warnings fell on deaf ears. 

As for accusations which have come from Conservative Members of the House who have riled themselves up over fantasies that if I were in charge I would simply sit on my thumbs, I would just gently remind them should focus their ire to the reality that it was the Foreign Secretary who was sat on a sun lounger as Kabul fell.

Ruth Murphy.

Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton (1974-).

Opposition Whip (1982-).

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