UK to push for allies to take Afghan refugees as Raab faces more criticism

The UK is launching a diplomatic push to encourage allies to join it in offering to take in Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban regime.

The Government has announced Britain will take up to 20,000 people wanting 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 will 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.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is due to speak with fellow G7 ministers on Thursday to discuss international co-operation before leaders of the group – which, as well as the UK, includes the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy – hold a virtual meeting next week.

Mr Raab also held talks on Wednesday evening with his counterparts in India and the US – the second time he has spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week.

The Cabinet minister faced further awkward headlines as it was reported help for Afghan interpreters who had supported British troops was delayed because Mr Raab was on holiday in Crete and unable to make a phone call.

The Daily Mail said Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office officials suggested Mr Raab call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on Friday – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – only for him to be “unavailable” while on holiday.

The paper claimed the Afghan foreign ministry then refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, pushing it back to the next day.

The Foreign Office said: “The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said on Twitter Mr Raab’s reported actions were a “dereliction of duty”.

He added: “Failing to make a call has put the lives of brave interpreters at risk, after they served so bravely with our military. Utterly shameful.”

The decision of the Prime Minister, who is said to have gone to Somerset, and Mr Raab to take holiday while the Taliban advanced came under scrutiny during a lively Commons debate on Wednesday as Parliament was recalled from its summer break for MPs and peers to debate the Afghanistan situation.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was facing further criticism over his decision to go on holiday while the Taliban was advancing in Afghanistan
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was facing further criticism over his decision to go on holiday while the Taliban was advancing in Afghanistan (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the pair as he told MPs: “You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister would be turning his attention to international efforts to support the Afghan people, including the emerging refugee crisis.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “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.”

However, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy was critical of the Government’s offer during an appearance on the BBC’s Question Time.

The senior Labour MP said 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.

The refugee debate comes after No 10 already announced an increase in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, doubling it to £286 million.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman denied that the money would be given to the Taliban, telling reporters it would be distributed in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) and other NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

Mr Johnson and US President Joe Biden both came in for heavy criticism during the emergency debate in Parliament.

In a packed Commons chamber, the Prime Minister defended the final pull-out of British troops, saying it was an “illusion” to think the international military mission could have continued without US forces.

But predecessor Theresa May was among those to take aim at Mr Johnson’s approach, accusing him of hoping “on a wing and a prayer it’d be all right on the night” once the US and its allies had withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Mrs May also hit out at Mr Biden’s decision to “unilaterally” pull out of Afghanistan, with senior MPs – including former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – directing their ire at the White House incumbent.

In Afghanistan, British efforts to repatriate British nationals and local Afghan backers is continuing to gather pace despite chaotic scenes at the airport, with Taliban fighters carrying out spot checks.

Mr Johnson, in his update to MPs, said the Government had so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghans during its rescue efforts.

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 – but warned there were “days, not weeks” left to complete the mission.