UK on diplomatic blitz to encourage countries to ‘match’ Afghan refugee scheme

UK ministers will embark on a diplomatic blitz to encourage allies to “match” their own commitment to take in Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban, Downing Street has said.

With a meeting of G7 leaders pencilled in for next week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will lay the groundwork in talks with his counterparts on Thursday to discuss international co-operation.

Mr Raab was also due to hold talks on Wednesday evening with his opposite number in India and the US – the second time he will have spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week.

The UK has announced it will take up to 20,000 people looking to exit Afghanistan as part of its resettlement scheme, with 5,000 due to be accepted in the next 12 months.

Downing Street said the Government would be encouraging international partners to emulate “one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history”, but Labour said the offer was not bold enough.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told BBC’s Question Time that it was “absolutely clear that 5,000 is too small a number over the next 12 months” and called for a “more generous offer” to be made.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Today the Prime Minister set out the UK’s significant offer to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan – doubling our humanitarian aid to the region and establishing one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history.

“He also outlined the UK’s broader strategy for Afghanistan and the region, including the need to unite the international community behind a clear plan for dealing with the Taliban regime in a unified and concerted way.

“We are now asking our international partners to match the UK’s commitments and work with us to offer a lifeline to Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.”

Boris Johnson, in his update to a recalled Parliament on Wednesday, said the Government had so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghans during its repatriation efforts.

A further 2,000 Afghan applications have been completed and many more are being processed as the British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said Foreign Office personnel were hoping to get “at least” 1,000 people out of the country every day.

The Prime Minister, who has spoken with US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in recent days, continued his efforts to bring the G7 together on its Afghanistan position during talks with his Italian counterpart on Wednesday.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson explained his “five-point proposal” to Italian prime minister Mario Draghi about how he envisaged the international community could “support the people of Afghanistan and contribute to regional stability”.

“The Prime Minister and prime minister Draghi agreed to work together to prevent a humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan and the surrounding region, and to discuss next steps at a virtual meeting of G7 leaders in the coming days,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will speak with G7 foreign ministers on Thursday
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will speak with G7 foreign ministers on Thursday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It comes as a Foreign Office minister admitted the UK might be less safe as a result of the Taliban takeover.

Middle East minister James Cleverly, asked on Question Time whether the British public were more at risk of terrorism following the Taliban victory, said: “There is, of course, that risk.”

He said the UK would have to work with countries it had a “very difficult” relationship with to prevent Afghanistan becoming a safe harbour for terrorists once again.

“We are going to have to work very closely with countries in the immediate vicinity around Afghanistan and some of those countries are countries we have a very difficult set of relationships with, including Iran for example,” he said.

“But none of those countries want to see Afghanistan turn into a terrorist breeding ground.”