No appetite for continued military presence in Afghanistan, Boris Johnson says, as MPs recalled to Parliament to discuss unfolding crisis

The Prime Minister has appeared to rule out an inquiry into Britain’s response in Afghanistan and told MPs that the idea of there being an “appetite” for a continued military presence in the country is an “illusion”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan in the House of Commons, London, as MPs returned to Parliament from their summer break for an emergency sitting on Wednesday, three days after the country's capital Kabul fell to the militants on Sunday. (PA/House of Commons)

MPs have been called back to the House of Commons to debate the unfolding crisis following intense criticism from both sides over the Government’s response, but Boris Johnson has denied that ministers were unprepared for the Taliban’s takeover.

Opening the debate on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister told a packed Parliament the priority was now evacuating British nationals and their allies, and went on: “I really think that it is an illusion to believe that there is appetite amongst any of our partners for a continued military presence or for a military solution imposed by Nato in Afghanistan. That idea ended with the combat mission in 2014.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I do not believe that today deploying tens of thousands of British troops to fight the Taliban is an option that, no matter how sincerely people may advocate it – and I appreciate their sincerity – but I do not believe that that is an option that would commend itself either to the British people or to this House.”

When asked by Conservative MP and former Army officer Tobias Ellwood whether he would agree to an inquiry into Britain’s conduct in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said: “Just a few weeks ago there was an extensive defence review about Afghanistan after the combat mission ended in 2014 and I believe that most of the key questions have already been extensively got in to."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for Mr Johnson to “snap out of his complacency” on the issue, saying that the current “desperate situation requires leadership.”

Pointing to reports that an evacuation plane left Afghanistan nearly empty because evacuees were not able to reach the airport on time, Sir Keir added: “We do not turn our backs on friends at their time of need.

“We owe an obligation for the people of Afghanistan. There should be a resettlement scheme for people to rebuild their lives here. Safe and legal routes, it must be a resettlement scheme that meets the scale of the enormous challenge, but what the Government has announced this morning does not do that.”

It has been announced that 20,000 Afghan refugees will be resettled in the UK in the coming years, with 5,000 welcomed this year, but the scheme has been criticised for not going far enough, as Sir Keir called for a programme "that meets the scale of the challenge".

He told MPs: “The scheme must be generous and welcoming. If it is not, we know the consequences, we know the consequences now: violent reprisals in Afghanistan, people tragically fleeing into the arms of human traffickers – we know this is what will happen – more people risking and losing their lives on unsafe journeys including across the English Channel.

“We cannot betray our friends, we must lead.”