Angela Rayner statement on Afghanistan
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, delivering a statement responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan, said:
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Firstly, let me give apologies on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition – who is on a long-planned visit to meet political leaders in Northern Ireland.
Mr Speaker, this is a profound moment for more than 150,000 UK personnel who have served in Afghanistan during the last 20 years, including my Honourable Friends the Members for Barnsley Central and Norwich South, among others in this House.
My own brother too served in the British Army during this period, so I know how it feels to say goodbye to a loved one before a tour of duty.
Thankfully, I do not know how it feels to not see your loved one come home again, and the pain that those families have gone through is unimaginable.
Hundreds of young British men and women lost their lives in the service of our country.
Many more were wounded or injured and still suffer the physical and emotional scars.
They have shown extraordinary bravery, skill and courage.
So today, Mr Speaker, to everyone who served in Afghanistan, and to all that loved and supported them: we say thank you.
There have been moments of huge difficulty in the last two decades.
And the situation on the ground in Afghanistan today is more concerning than at any point in many years.
That must not take away from the many positives our engagement has brought to Afghanistan and the real difference our services and development sector have made in a country that has suffered so much.
We have supported improvements: in security, in governance, in economic development and in advancing the rights of women and education for girls.
Yet these gains have not been secured.
The Taliban are making gains on the ground.
Serious questions remain about the future stability of Afghanistan.
A security threat remains to the wider world including the UK.
Nobody wants to see British troops permanently stationed in Afghanistan.
But if we simply wash our hands and walk away, it is hard to see a future without bloodier conflict and wider Taliban control.
Already, they are on the brink of gaining control of provincial capitals. Afghan security forces risk being overwhelmed.
This spells jeopardy for the Afghan people, particularly for Afghan women and girls, who in a just world would have the same rights as women everywhere deserve.
In the words of the Prime Minister himself, this is a situation “fraught with risk”.
Can he tell us if he argued for or against the withdrawal with the US Government and in NATO, and what other steps he proposed?
British troops made enormous sacrifices.
We believe that as a nation we have a responsibility to our veterans.
Can the Prime Minister really tell them that our work as a nation in Afghanistan is done? That their efforts will not have been in vain?
On their behalf, Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister:
What plans are now in place to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a failed state and a breeding ground for those that wish to oppress their own citizens and threaten ours? What additional threat does our country now face?
What diplomatic plans will be in place in the region to support the peace process? Is the UK government engaging with the Government of Pakistan about its role? Will the UK Embassy in Kabul remain? And how will UK staff there be kept safe?
Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet our aid funding to that country is to be cut by more than the hundred million pounds he referred to today. One UK-funded project for 6,000 women has already been cancelled. When he visited Kabul as Foreign Secretary, he said that girl’s education was our “crowning achievement” in Afghanistan. So can the Prime Minister tell the House what impact his cuts will have on programmes there, and will he not think again?
Mr Speaker, I reiterate that we all want to see the end of UK military operations in Afghanistan.
But if we leave without putting a plan in place to ensure Afghanistan does not go back to the conflict and violence of the past then we will have failed those who have given so much over the last 20 years.
Building and maintaining the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan, protecting women and girls, and in turn protecting our own nation, should always be our priority.
To honour the legacy of those that served and the lives that were lost, let’s make sure we get this right.