“You cannot coordinate an international response from a beach” Why we must challenge this government’s behaviour

“Sunbathing to music” by Winniepix is licensed under CC BY 2.0 NB: this is neither Raab nor Johnson

The quote is from Sir Keir Starmer in today’s debate. The Afghanistan crisis, quite aside being an unimaginable tragedy for the Afghan people, has thrown up very serious questions about the competence, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and statesmanship of this government. We have to keep calling these abject failures out because they are failings that are at risk of being normalised and accepted. They are not normal and they are not acceptable; but they are all part of a pattern that should worry us all.

Failure to take serious matters seriously: why were Johnson and Raab on holiday? Why? In what universe is it acceptable for a prime minister or the foreign secretary to go on holiday against advice and to only return as a result of media and colleague pressure? Johnson has consistently displayed a cavalier approach to crisis, joking about shaking hands at the start of the pandemic, and repeatedly described as ‘missing in action’ at critical points in recent history.

And here is Raab laughing during today’s debate:

Failure to get on top of intelligence/research: Raab claimed that “The world had been taken by surprise”. Funny that. Raab himself is taken by surprise on quite a number of fronts, for example when discovering that the Dover/Calais route was important to UK trade.

Many in the parliamentary debate have asked whether this inability to forsee what would happen was a failure of military intelligence or a failure of ministers to grasp the severity of the situation. Indeed, as Theresa May said:

“Was our intelligence really so poor? Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge on the ground so inadequate? Or did we just think we had to follow the United States and on a wing and a prayer it would be all right on the night?”

Hearing echoes of the appalling failures to understand and prepare adequately for the impact of Brexit/third country status on trade or to act quickly and decisively on the scientific advice during the pandemic?

Incompetence/mendacity: In one breath the government claimed it was suprised by the turn of events. In the next, it was fully prepared. Which is it?

Johnny Mercer saw through the bull.

Weasel words:

Johnson’s spokesperson said it was “new funding in addition to the current aid budget”, which was £167.5m for 2020-21. But the £286m is still below the £292m of funding in 2019.

Callousness and weasel words:

Priti Patel: “we’re not saying there’s a cap, we’re saying we won’t take more than 20k. That’s not a cap…”

Provision for a miserly 5000 people from Afghanistan in the first year, with the ‘possibility’ of offering up to 20,000 people places by 2026. Big-hearted? What do persecuted people do? Sit and wait five years?

Yvette Cooper asked the government to “urgently review and broaden the scope of the relocation scheme”. She says Rabb said those who worked in NGOs and on aid programmes would be included. But , she continued

“I say to the foreign sec, that is not happening on the ground right now. It’s not reflected in the guidance that they are operating or in the application process. People are being turned down as we speak. they are being turned down this weekend.”

Desperate people are being told to ‘apply [to come to the UK]in the normal way’. As Barry Gardiner MP said, “There is no normal way. How do they take an English test? How do they take any sort of test?”

Patel is clearly hellbent on keeping her hostile environment intact.

Broken promises and untrustworthiness:

The whole fiasco is yet another nail in the coffin of our trustworthiness.

In 2016, then foreign minister Boris Johnson pledged that after the UK’s exit from the European Union its commitment to Afghanistan would remain unchanged and “long term”.

Johnson made the remarks on a 24-hour visit to Kabul, his first, after a trip to neighbouring Pakistan.

“The message I have for President (Ashraf) Ghani and Chief Executive (Abdullah) Abdullah is that we are here for the long term and we are committed to Afghanistan’s side,” Johnson told reporters, adding that many Britons had lost their lives in the country.

Betrayal of promises is a hallmark of Johnson’s ‘style’. Johnny Mercer highlighted the betrayal of army veterans.

Leadership/Global Britain? Forget it.

We have trashed our relationship with Europe, and now we realise we have no influence on or real value to the US.

Why was this a debate with no vote? Because, as Tobias Ellwood made clear, the government would have lost any vote to approve its actions.

We agree with Tobias Ellwood that we need an inquiry now. Just as we need a Covid-19 inquiry now, not when Johnson has fled the field.

Why is this government so resistant to scrutiny and to learning lessons from past mistakes? I think we know; and as with the handling of the pandemic, these fatal flaws lead to human tragedy.