Monday 6 September 2021 / 3:51 PM Foreign Policy / Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer’s statement in the House of Commons on Afghanistan

Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Labour Party, responding in the House of Commons on the situation in Afghanistan, said:

Thank you, Mr Speaker. And thank you to the Prime Minister for advance copy of his statement.

The heroes on the ground of Operation Pitting are the best of us. The Ambassador stayed to process every case 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 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 Afghans friends are starting a new life here in Britain.

Speaking directly to those who served in Operation Pitting. Thank you.

Your service deserves recognition and honour. And I hope the Prime Minster will accept Labour’s proposal to scrap the 30-day continuous service rule so that medals are awarded for your bravery.

The entire 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 deserve 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 Afghan Security forces, a return to power for the Taliban, and our embassy shutting 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.

They were let down by a lack planning. 18 months passed between the Doha Agreement and the fall of Kabul. Yet only 2,000 of the 8,000 people eligible for the ARAP scheme had been brought to Britain.

A strategic review was published to much fanfare, but it didn’t even mention the Taliban, NATO withdrawal or the Doha Agreement. And the Prime Minister only convened a G7 meeting on Afghanistan after Kabul was lost.

Because of this lack of leadership the Government has left behind so many to whom we owe so much.

MPs face 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, Afghans who applied for ARAP weeks ago were clearly eligible but they weren’t processed quickly enough to make it to the planes. A familiar and desperate story to many across the House.

The government doesn’t even know how many UK nationals and how many 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 we have left behind, the Government doesn’t 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 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.

The terrible attacks from ISIS K highlight the new security threat. The government must quickly coordinate international partners to ensure the Afghan Government’s collapse does not leave a vacuum for terrorist groups to fill.

There is a desperate need for humanitarian support. The return to 2019 levels of aid spending for Afghanistan is necessary. And where is the plan to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands?

To those who have managed to escape Afghanistan and have arrived here in the UK. Welcome.

I know you will give much to this country as you make it your new home. All you need is the help and support.

Local Authorities across the country are trying to play their part. But they are in the dark over how many people they will be asked to support and what resources they will have to do so.

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