Boris Johnson opened the debate on the situation in Afghanistan to a packed house. With virtual parliament rules now gone, MPs on both sides crammed into the Commons Chamber to take part in the debate. But the large audience didn’t actually help the Prime Minister. In fact, it served to highlight the criticism the government is facing both from opposition politicians and its own MPs. Within minutes there had been critical interventions from Labour and Tory members.
Johnson began his statement by looking back on the 9/11 terror attacks, which saw the UK – along with other allies – join forces with the United States to enter Afghanistan. The Prime Minister said the aim was to stop further terror attacks being planned there and to stabilise Afghanistan. Johnson said that ‘we succeeded in that core mission’. He pointed to how terror attacks plotted in Afghanistan had been foiled in that time and training camps destroyed.
However, Johnson’s attempts to talk up the UK’s achievements didn’t land well with all. It led to a hostile intervention from former defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who asked whether Johnson agreed that recent events in Afghanistan in the new Taliban regime meant ‘we are now ceding power back to the very same insurgency’. Johnson re-iterated that the core mission had been achieved.
Johnson tried to use the statement to outline the UK’s new resettlement offer to Afghan refugees – 20,000 in total will be let in, with 5,000 in the first year. However, the scheme led to more questions as to whether the UK would really be able to get these people out in the first place now that the Taliban have taken control. The Prime Minister said that the situation in Kabul airport had improved, but conceded the reason they were able to proceed was that the Taliban were allowing evacuations to go ahead.