Afghanistan must be prevented from slipping “back to a hotbed for international terrorism”, Labour leader Keir Starmer has said.
Speaking after attending a meeting with national security adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, on Tuesday afternoon, Starmer said the priority in the response to the collapse of Kabul into the hands of the Taliban must be preventing the resurgence of terrorism and ensuring that the rights of women and girls are protected.
Asked whether he feared terrorists could set up in Afghanistan again following the Taliban takeover, the Opposition leader told broadcasters: “Yes, I am concerned about that terrorist risk and my concern generally is that Afghanistan could become a place where international terrorism emanates again.”
He said: “Everything needs to be done to guard against that, that’s why it is very important that the Prime Minister and our Government step up to the role of leading and bringing countries together, to have an assertive approach to that very question.
“But there are broader questions than that. We can’t have as our goal here simply that Afghanistan doesn’t slip back to a hotbed for international terrorism.
“There have been important developments over the past 20 years, particularly for women and girls, advancements throughout the country, and we must do what we can, working with our partners, to make sure we safeguard some of that progress.”
Starmer met with Lovegrove alongside Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, and shadow defence secretary, John Healey.
And he said that when Parliament is recalled on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, he would be pushing Boris Johnson over his plan for refugees.
He said: “I want to hear from the Prime Minister tomorrow, it is one of the questions we have for him, is what is that plan for refugees because we need to know and tomorrow’s the time for the Prime Minister to answer that question.”
Asked how many refugees the UK should take in from Afghanistan, he said: “Before we get to a number, the first question is getting our international partners round a table, including neighbouring countries to Afghanistan, to draw up an urgent plan for the safe and legal exit of refugees that inevitably will flow from this.”
He added: “More broadly, I don’t think a question of numbers at this stage is a helpful discussion. The first discussion has to be: is there a plan, is there a strategy of safe and legal routes for refugees to come out of Afghanistan, and how quickly can that be put in place? That’s the question that I and many people, I think, are going to be putting to the Prime Minister tomorrow.”
He also said it was “wrong” for the PM and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to have opted to go on holiday while the Taliban made gains in Afghanistan.
The Labour leader told broadcasters: “It was completely wrong to be on holiday.
“Speak to anybody who has any experience of Afghanistan and they will tell you it was obvious last week that we were heading to a very serious situation.
“For the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to be missing in action at this vital time is something that everybody thinks is wrong.
“I hope he will answer for that in the recall debate tomorrow as well.”