Dominic Raab’s speech closing the Commons debate on Afghanistan provided a neat summary of the government’s response to the crisis: defensive, sketchy on detail and irritated by valid criticism. The Foreign Secretary’s name had cropped up repeatedly today in the chamber as opposition MPs slammed his decision to stay on holiday as the Taliban surged back through Afghanistan. He did not address this directly (naturally) but instead paid tribute to the many speeches he had heard from across the House. None of them, as Lisa Nandy had just observed in her winding-up speech, was devoid of criticism for this government. Many were in fact full of it.
Raab was cut off by the Speaker as he had run over time. Perhaps that is why he didn’t get to mentioning the speech of Tom Tugendhat, praised on this blog and elsewhere. Perhaps more importantly it is why the Foreign Secretary also made scant reference to Britain’s place in the world, to this country’s need, as Tugendhat and others had argued, to work out new alliances after the failure of the United States to lead. He said the government had ‘two overriding priorities’: to evacuate British nationals and offering safe haven to those Afghans who worked for Britain and are now under threat. Raab spoke of the government’s ‘bespoke’ arrangements for Afghan refugees and paid tribute to the British government workers including the UK ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow who are still in the country trying to process the paperwork for the thousands of people trying to leave.
He sprang back against the Labour party’s ‘searing criticisms’ of his performance, saying Sir Keir Starmer had shown a ‘predictable proclivity for hindsight’ and hadn’t made a single suggestion of something that the government wasn’t already doing.