Boris Johnson has been accused by Sir Keir Starmer of being “incapable of international leadership”, as he described people eligible for evacuation left behind in Afghanistan as a “national disgrace”.
The Labour leader’s remarks came as the prime minister defended the 20-year intervention in the region, insisting the armed forces enabled millions of girls to go to school while protecting the UK from terrorism.
Speaking after Mr Johnson provided an update to MPs, Sir Keir claimed the government did not have a plan for to “get everybody out” of the country, who remain eligible for sanctuary in Britain, following the closure of Kabul international airport last week.
“There is no international agreement on resettlement of Afghan refugees,” the Labour leader said. “We have a prime minister incapable of international leadership, just when we need it most”.
He added: “History will tell the tale of Operation Pitting as on 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 political leadership was missing in action”.
The Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who also chairs the Commons Defence Committee, said that the limits of UK and Western influence had been “exposed” by the crisis in Afghanistan.
“There’s now a void of leadership in the West and Nato,” he added, insisting the government needed a “complete overhaul of Whitehall to upgrade our strategic thinking” and foreign policy if Britain wanted to fill the void.
During the debate on Monday, Mr Johnson also told Theresa May — his predecessor in No 10 — that the government had “no direct information as yet” over any increase to the UK’s terror threat following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban insurgency.
In his update, the prime minister said 15,000 people were brought to safety during the evacuation, but revealed 311 people eligible to come to the UK through a special resettlement scheme remain in Afghanistan.
He said of those people, 192 had responded to calls, adding: “We will do absolutely everything we can to ensure that those people get the safe passage that they deserve using the levers that I have described”.
Referring to the imminent 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr Johnson told MPs: “If anyone is still tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in twenty years, tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school.
“Tell them that this country and the Western world were protected from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan throughout that period; and tell them we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history.”
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