Lisa Nandy has urged Boris Johnson to show a “level of humility” at an emergency meeting of G7 nations called this afternoon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, warning that “a country that doesn’t lead by example cannot ask others to step up”.
Talking to Sky News this morning, the Shadow Foreign Secretary stressed the need to “agree a global response to the refugee crisis” and to reassure neighbouring countries that they will not be left alone to deal with the displacement.
“There are many neighbouring countries like Pakistan that have seen a huge flow of people across the borders – they need reassurances that they are not going to be left by the world’s wealthiest countries who are meeting today to deal with the repercussions of this by themselves,” she told viewers.
Nandy criticised the decision to cap the number of Afghan refugees the UK will accept this year to 5,000, cuts to aid and threats to “tear up international law”, warning that the government has “trashed” its international reputation.
“We’re starting to see the folly of that approach because a country that doesn’t lead by example cannot ask others to step up and do the same. So what we need to hear from the Prime Minister at the G7 is a level of humility,” she added.
“He has got this wrong and he needs to go in and convince those global partners that Britain is going to be a country that once again steps up and does it part and leads on the global stage, and we need others to do the same.”
The Taliban returned to power last week, almost 20 years after the invasion of Afghanistan launched by the West with the objective of ousting the group and preventing it from harbouring al-Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks in the US.
The success of the Taliban followed the planned withdrawal of troops by the US, agreed by President Donald Trump last year. Evacuation flights are currently departing from the capital as the US and other countries fly out nationals.
US troops controlling Kabul airport, the only functioning airport in the country, are scheduled to leave by August 31st. Johnson and other leaders are expected to urge Joe Biden to extend the deadline at the 90-minute virtual meeting today.
A Taliban spokesperson has insisted that remaining personnel must leave according to the agreed timeline, saying that not doing so would be a “violation” and that the “leadership will take a decision [on how] to react to the violation”.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning that it is “unlikely” that the US administration will opt to extend its military presence in Afghanistan, but added: “It is definitely worth us all to try and we will.”
Nandy described the G7 talks this afternoon as a “make-or-break moment”. She said the collection of Western countries have “clout that other bodies don’t”, in the form of economic sanctions, to pressure the Taliban into extending the deadline.
She said: “The G7 represents a third of the global economy and between us we hold billions of pounds – £9bn in the US alone – in assets that were held by the Afghan government. They’re sitting in Western bank accounts.
“That gives the G7 an amount of leverage that other global bodies simply don’t have and that’s why today’s common approach that must be agreed in order to extend that deadline and keep the land borders open and agree an approach to the global refugee crisis – these things really, really matter because the G7 has clout that other bodies don’t and we’ve got to use that today.
“The Prime Minister has to use that today in order to make a common approach to the Taliban in order to convince them that it’s not in their interests to stop us getting our people out and that air bridge must be extended.”
She warned of “incredible repercussions” if the UK does not use its leverage, arguing that the failure to protect people who have helped UK military operations will undermine its work in other areas around the world.
“We have UK troops deployed in peacekeeping missions in very dangerous places like Mali where we rely on local support. What message will it send to people if we can’t even help evacuate those who’ve supported us,” she told viewers.
MPs were recalled for an emergency debate in parliament last week, where Johnson faced opposition over his response to the withdrawal of US troops and calls to provide greater support for refugees in the wake of the government’s collapse.
The government has committed to resettling 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan over the next five years but has faced criticism, in particular, over the fact that only 5,000 of the overall total will be accepted under the scheme this year.
The 20,000 overall figure promised by ministers is the same as the number of people resettled from Syria. Campaigners have argued the commitment is too small with some pointing out that Syria is approximately half the size of Afghanistan.