MPs filled the House of Commons’ benches for the first time since March 2020, having been recalled from summer recess to debate the events in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
It was an historic day in many ways and not least because Boris Johnson and his ministers were rounded on from all sides, including from their own packed backbenches.
Veteran journalist and Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, tweeted: “I cannot remember a British Prime Minister attracting the scale of all-Party criticism and anger to which Mr Johnson has been subjected in the Commons today – Democracy was well served by the recall of Parliament for him to hear it.”
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the Commons’ defence select committee said Johnson made an “operational and strategic blunder” in withdrawing British troops at this time, adding: “I’m sorry there is no vote today as I do not believe that the government would have had the support of the house”.
‘Where is global Britain?’ asks May
Among the coruscating speeches and interventions by MPs, was former prime minister Theresa May who was scathing about the message the UK’s Afghan policy sends to the rest of the world, asking the Commons: “What does it say about us as a country? What does it say about Nato if we are entirely dependent on a unilateral decision taken by the United States?”
She continued: “We boast of global Britain. But where is global Britain on the streets of Kabul?”
Picking up on May’s devastating critique, the BBC’s political correspondent, Jessica Parker wrote that the proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday (August 18) “will not make good reading for the government”, adding, “it will speak of an anxiety that, in a watershed moment of international crisis, Global Britain fell short.”
Britain ‘aiming’ to airlift 1,000 people a day from Afghanistan
Reuters is reporting that Britain is intending to airlift 1,000 people every day from Afghanistan, with the PM’s spokesperson telling reporters on Wednesday the government is “aiming to operate at that capacity”.
However, only 5,000 Afghan refugees will be offered sanctuary by the UK over the next 12 months, a number, the spokesperson said, that reflects “our expectations of how many people will be able to both be seeking to leave, and will be able to leave, over that time period”.
The spokesperson told the Independent: “I think it’s important to emphasise that it’s very rare that people want to leave where they live and start life in another country”.
The comments follow those of Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, who said on Tuesday they were able to evacuate 700 people and were now “putting everything we can” into helping more leave the country.
UK sanctuary for 5,000 refugees is ‘woefully inadequate’, says Sturgeon
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the announcement of a UK resettlement scheme for refugees “in principle”, but tweeted, “the commitment to 20,000 in ‘long term’ and just 5,000 this year is woefully inadequate. I call on UK Gov to go further to meet its responsibilities. @scotgov ready to play full part”.
Johnson called the offer to take 5,000 refugees from Afghanistan this year as “one of the most generous…in our country’s history”, but organisations working with refugees have branded the plan “confusing” and “deeply disingenuous”.
The Guardian reported last night (Wednesday) that British fears are growing that the US may pull its 6,000 troops out of Kabul airport “within days”, putting the UK’s airlift at risk.