WATCH: Ed Davey’s Afghanistan speech: Boris Johnson is a national liabilty

Ed Davey had a tough slot today, coming just after Tom Tugendhat’s powerful speech.

He did well, though. He laid bare Boris Johnson’s share of the responsibility for what had happened:

I cannot hold President Biden to account in this House, but I can hold our own Government to account. Our Prime Minister and his Cabinet cannot escape their culpability for this disaster—for both the mistaken decision to withdraw, and how the withdrawal has turned into such a catastrophe. From the Prime Minister’s self-evident lack of influence and clout in Washington, to his negligent inability, yet again, to master his brief and plan properly for the withdrawal, today’s occupant of No. 10 has become a national liability.

He also slammed the Government’s deeply inadequate plans to take just 5000 Afghan refugees this year.

Afghans who have risked everything to help our soldiers and aid workers are now desperate for our help to escape. Refugees are fleeing in fear of their lives. Women and girls are seeing their futures stolen. Last night’s announcement that the Government are willing to take only 5,000 refugees in the next year utterly fails to respond to this crisis or to meet our obligations to so many Afghans.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Probably the best speech I’ve ever heard Ed Davey make. Well done, Ed. He reveals the casual carelessness which is the trademark of this Johnson Government. All photo-opportunities, white hat, yellow jacket and no substance.

    What was the point of sending the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on a provocative mission to the China Sea when the events of the last few days have revealed the empty rhetoric of Johnson’s so called patriotic global Britain ?

  • Mark Inskip 18th Aug '21 - 9:12pm

    An excellent speed from Ed Davey today in the House of Commons on Afghanistan. Pitched just right, highlighting the government and the Prime Minister’s huge failings as well as their totally inadequate response.

  • I am not sure that any serious blame for the decision to withdraw will stick to the UK government. The collapse of the Afghan security forces seems to be largely down to long-standing endemic corruption. The US and its NATO allies spent billions of dollars over two decades to train and equip Afghan security forces. But the Western-backed government was rife with corruption. Commanders exaggerated the number of soldiers to siphon off resources, and troops in the field often lacked ammunition, supplies or even food.
    Their morale further eroded when it became clear the US was on its way out. As the Taliban rapidly advanced in recent days entire units surrendered after brief battles, and Kabul and some nearby provinces fell without a fight. It is corruption that ultimately did for the mission in Afghanistan.
    The Defence secretary, Ben Wallis, said – after the US announced its withdrawal – he had tried, without success, to find other allies who would take their place – but the UK could not ‘go it alone’
    If there is an issue, it is more likely to be found in the planning and execution of emergency withdrawal plans including the arrangements for refugees, which have proved not up to the job.

  • I agree with Jo Bourke.
    To my mind the house of commons underwent some strange kind of catartic experience yesterday during which most people used the benefit of hind site to pour shame, embarrassment, and ridicule on the government who, whilst cthey clearly have questions to answer, are actually not primarily to blame for what has happened, but I guess so long as they all now feel better and have positioned themselves outside the circle of blame……
    As an aside, does anyone else think Kamala Harris has been strangely mute given the particular and specific risk to women and children. Also it hasn’t been the E .U.s finest hour either.

  • That should be Joe Bourke, apologies for getting your name wrong Joe.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '21 - 8:33am

    There is some speculation that the strength of the Afghan army was massively overstate. Instead of 700k+ there might only have been around 50k+ when things came to a head. It reminds me of the imaginary forces Hitler was shuffling around in his bunker in 1945.

    Yes, Sir Ed’s speech did the Lib Dems proud. Mind you, Tom Tugendhat gave a good one as well. Didn’t some MPs stand and applaud, which apparently is considered bad manners in the chamber?

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '21 - 8:53am

    I did my usual mask check when ‘entering’ physically or merely visually enclosed spaces, which the House of Commons surely is. It would appear that all parties except the Tories and the DUP were being careful. I find that typical. That won’t put me off wearing mine for the foreseeable future, despite the example set by some and, from what I have observed, most people where I live seem to be doing the same.

  • John Marriott, agreed, that was not a good look for the Tories and showed a lack of understanding of the situation and / or respect for others. Not good in any case.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Aug '21 - 9:20am

    “To my mind the house of commons underwent some strange kind of catartic experience yesterday during which most people used the benefit of hind site to pour shame, embarrassment, and ridicule on the government…”

    I wonder what might have happened if there had been a vote on a meaningful motion at the end of the debate. I wonder how many of those tory MPs who stood up to criticise the government might have trooped meekly into the government lobby…?


    “Question put and agreed to.


    That this House has considered the situation in Afghanistan.”

    Utterly meaningless

  • Nonconformistradical, I seem to be largely agreeing with people today, must be the spiced pu erh tea I tried this morning! Highly recommend to any inquisitive tea drinkers out there.
    Yes the motion was utterly meaningless. I also think the debate generated far more heat than light , not surprising given the situation is quite shocking and tragic. If the motion had been to urge the government to increase aid or numbers of asylum seekers they would be willing to take, then I think at least some of those tories who criticised the government would have voted for such a motion. If it had been purely to crucify Johnson then no probably not, but yes ‘This house has considered the situation in Afghanistan’ utterly meaningless.

  • Just had the chance to listen to Ed Davey,s speech yesterday, he did the Liberal Democrats proud and I refer you to David Raw,s contribution on 18/8/21 for my own feelings on the position this country finds itself in, what an embarrassing mess this government is perpetrating on our reputation in the world.

  • Joe Bourke 18th Aug ’21 – 11:54pm….I am not sure that any serious blame for the decision to withdraw will stick to the UK government. The collapse of the Afghan security forces seems to be largely down to long-standing endemic corruption…..

    I find it hard to believe that anyone can attempt to downplay the UK’s responsibility with “Oh there was corruption”…It was UK taxpayer’s money, and therefore the government’s responsibility to oversee it’s use..
    As Theresa May, one of the best speakers, pointed out, “Was our intelligence and streetwise knowledge that bad that we couldn’t forsee this chaos?”..
    Thankfully this country wasn’t involved in Vietnam but this debacle (Foreign minister remaining on holiday and delegating responsibilty from a sun lounger, etc) has been this country’s worst day since the Suez fiasco..
    ‘Global Britain’ O.M.G.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Aug '21 - 11:39am

    “Thankfully this country wasn’t involved in Vietnam”

    Thank you Harold Wilson

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '21 - 12:04pm

    We shouldn’t forget that the Taliban rose to prominence after the 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The US priority at the time was to kick out the USSR so they generously funded the Taliban.

    It looks like the Russians might have been recently engaged in ‘returning the favour.’

    What was the point of the Western occupation? Who were we trying to support? There had to have been someone, that we approved of, or some faction who was capable of running a government for longer than a few days without any sustained western assistance. If there wasn’t we should have simply left it to the Russians to sort out in the first place.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '21 - 12:22pm

    PS I really should have said Britain and America rather than the “West”.

    Our former friends in the EU either had the good sense, or depending on you look at it, an insufficient resolve, to get involved in anything more than a token way. The USA had the most casualties, followed by the UK, then Canada. And all the rest of the EU? Not many at all. Less in total than the UK.

  • Expats, oh I don’t know, there’s Blair dragging is into an illegal war, then the coalition saving Libya, there is plenty to choose from. Not sure why people appear to think Boris is primarily to blame, listen to ‘je me regretted rien’ Biden and his suddenly mute vice president. Up to a few days ago six E.U. countries were still arguing to return illegal Afghan immigrants! Germany and France have ceased aid payments, all be it on a ‘tempoary basis’ Plenty of blame to go around.

  • Expats,

    the answer to Theresa May’s question is no. We knew this was an unwinnable war a decade ago and that only the Afghan themselves could resolve their internal disputes. This piece from a US Army veteran, who served multiple deployments in Afghanistan, gives a frank assessment of where things went wrong and why the USA felt the need to put an end to their mission in Afghanistan.
    As he writes “Most of our original objectives in Afghanistan had long since been accomplished, yet we continued providing training and resources to a citizenry that was largely not interested or invested.
    I saw with my own eyes the efforts to build infrastructure and an economy with a complete lack of understanding as to what the Afghan people wanted or needed, like repeated projects to install solar panels to power highway lights, only to see them disappear, end up in people’s homes or businesses, be replaced, and disappear again.
    I witnessed too many examples of waste and fraud to recall them all.”
    “I had my boots on the ground in Afghanistan. I saw with my own eyes how the mission creep and unattainable goals played out. I watched my brothers and sisters in uniform pay the price with their lives, bodies and minds. We did our jobs, serving honorably and courageously. Now is the time for our leaders to resoundingly remind and reinforce to our community that this was a policy failure, not a failure of our effort or sacrifice.
    But the cost is not worth a war with no clear national security interests. Our foreign policy should be focused on what is best for us as a nation. And what is best for us in Afghanistan is to get out, not to stay put so that we can lose more slowly.”
    The USA provided 98% of the weapons and training for the Afghan forces.The UK contribution had little impact on the sustainability of the Afghan security forces.

  • Peter Martin 19th Aug '21 - 1:54pm

    @ Justin,

    “Not sure why people appear to think Boris is primarily to blame….. “

    That’s ‘cos no-one in the supposed progressive left likes him for taking the UK out of the EU.

    It was only a matter of time before the Americans decided they’d had enough in Afghanistan and were pulling out. Without them there’s no point anyone else hanging on.

    If anyone is to blame it is Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, (and the rest of New Labour), David Cameron (plus his allies in the Lib Dem backed coalition). A failing policy was already well in place by the time both Theresa May and Boris Johnson arrived on the scene. It was only a matter of time.

  • Justin 19th Aug ’21 – 1:22pm……
    I trust you were being sarcastic in your use of language .Blair ‘dragging us into an illegal war’ whilst the coalition ‘saving Libya’ (or were you being sarcastic?) The Libyan debacle was just as illegal; ‘regime change’ is still illegal under international law…

    Western interventions, with few exceptions, since Vietnam have just created more extreme regimes and millions of refugees.. You used the lyrics ‘ je ne regrette rien’ my concern is that ‘Quand saurons-nous… jamais?’ is a more applicable lyric..

    Joe Bourke 19th Aug ’21 – 1:22pm…………..Expats,. We knew this was an unwinnable war a decade ago and that only the Afghan themselves could resolve their internal disputes….

    Yes, and we had twenty years to prepare for this ‘resolution’..That makes our failure and responsibility all the greater..When, just a few weeks ago, Biden/Johnson declared that the Taliban weren’t able to take control were they lying, ignorant or both?

  • Peter Martin, that could be it 🙂

  • Afghanistan was lost once the decision was made to invade Iraq. The UK military struggled to maintain adequate support for forces in Helmand and Basra at the same time and ultimately both missions achieved only limited success The US diverted resources away from Afghanistan and the Taliban, with the support of Pakistan, was able to regroup.
    If there are to be any lessons heeded it will be important to face reality about what went wrong and more importantly not to repeat it.
    It is of little use now to threaten the Taliban with sanctions or not to recognise their government. Russia, China and Turkey, as well as Pakistan and perhaps Iran are ready to recognise the Taliban and do business with them.
    All the UK can effectively do now is evacuate as many refugees as we possibly can in the time remaining before the International airport is closed and maintain overseas aid via the United Nations to mitigate the disaster that is engulfing the Afghan population.

  • Expats, yes that was an attempt at sarcasm, in reflection misplaced given the tone of the thread, you’re right to pull me up on it.

  • John Marriott 20th Aug '21 - 9:22am

    @Joe Bourke
    “Afghanistan was lost once the decision was made to invade Iraq”. Your words, I assume, and not a comment from someone else you are quoting? My reply would be the question; “When was Afghanistan ever WON?”

    From what I have seen, heard and read over many years, that country (or rather a collection of warlords, running areas held occasionally together by interventions from outside) has been the graveyard for many ambitions. I am afraid that other forces will now step in, notably China and Russia, neither of whom will have any interest whatsoever in planting the seeds of democracy. Will the Taliban even be capable of governance? They made a dogs breakfast of it last time. As for revenue, well there’s always the ubiquitous poppy and any number of well funded terrorist groups prepared to pay ground rent.

    Perhaps it really is time to negotiate with the ‘victors’. I’d rather they were OUR Taliban rather than THEIR Taliban! As for those Afghans who opposed them, sadly some may prove to be collateral damage. As far as the drugs threat is concerned, perhaps it really is time to have a refresh look at the ‘War on Drugs’ and the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act in particular.

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