Parliament to be recalled next week over Afghanistan crisis – as Boris Johnson calls another emergency Cobra meeting

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Parliament will be recalled next week over the situation in Afghanistan, as the prime minister called a second emergency Cobra meeting later this afternoon to discuss the crisis.

MPs will return to Westminster on Wednesday to debate the government’s response to the crisis, with Taliban fighters having entered the capital Kabul after a lightning advance through the country.

Live updates on Afghanistan as government promises peaceful transition of power

The session will begin at 9.30am and will end at 2.30pm, while peers in the Lords will sit from 11am.

According to Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates, Conservative MPs have been told that there will be no virtual participation and while they are encouraged to return to Westminster, there will not be a three-line whip requiring them to do so.

MPs broke up for their summer recess on 22 July and had not been due to return until 6 September.

Calls for MPs to return to Westminster have been growing in recent days as the Taliban continues to make gains amid the withdrawal of US, UK and NATO troops.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was among those calling for such a move, saying earlier on Sunday: “The situation in Afghanistan is deeply shocking and seems to be worsening by the hour.

“The immediate priority now must be to get all British personnel and support staff safely out of Kabul.

“The government has been silent while Afghanistan collapses, which let’s be clear will have ramifications for us here in the UK.

Analysis by Nick Martin, political correspondent

MPs returning to parliament three weeks early – cutting short the summer recess – is a sign of a deepening crisis for the UK government.

There are still thought to be thousands of British nationals in the Afghan capital and the pace of the Taliban advance has put them in greater risk.

An unpredictable force with a lethal track record are closing in and time is running out to get them to safety.

Downing Street sources say parliament will be recalled next week and that means MPs will be able to debate the situation.

Expect the prime minister to make a statement to the house. We could hear from the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

It’s likely that the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer will press the government for more details on Britain’s involvement.

He said on Sunday: “We need parliament recalled so the government can update MPs on how it plans to work with allies to avoid a humanitarian crisis and a return to the days of Afghanistan being a base for extremists whose purpose will be to threaten our interests, values and national security.”

The Lib Dem leader Ed Davey added: “The prime minister should call in all political parties and ensure that we respond with unity and purpose.”

Parliament went into recess on 22 July and wasn’t expected to return until September. It would be unfathomable to allow recess to continue given the escalation in Afghanistan.

The prime minister chaired a meeting of COBRA, the government’s emergency committee on Friday.

Now 600 troops are already on their way to the region.

Events are moving fast.

“We need parliament recalled so the government can update MPs on how it plans to work with allies to avoid a humanitarian crisis and a return to the days of Afghanistan being a base for extremists whose purpose will be to threaten our interests, values and national security.”

Reacting to news of the recall, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News it was “extremely good news” but urged the government to act in the meantime to ensure Britons and those who have helped the UK in Afghanistan are transported out of the country.

“I suspect that this has taken so long because the government doesn’t have a clear strategy to deal with this,” she said.

“That’s what we need to hear from the prime minister this week. We need to hear that imminently.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, another supporter of the recall, told Sky News: “I think many people will be asking what this has been for.

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UK must be ‘realistic’ over Afghanistan

“There are questions that now need to be asked about the next steps. What do we do to try and give humanitarian support to those that need it.

“Many will have concerns about a potential breeding ground for terrorism and, I hate to say it, repeating some of the problems of the past.”

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, also backed calls for a recall of parliament.

He has urged Boris Johnson to hold a “crisis meeting” with party leaders “given the tragedy unfolding before our eyes and the grave threat to national security this raises”.

“It is without doubt that we face a crucial point in history and, as a nation, we must act together before it is too late,” he said.

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‘We can’t turn our back on Afghanistan’

But Rory Stewart, a Conservative former international development secretary, said he found it “very difficult to understand, I’m afraid, how this will help at this stage”.

“The focus now needs to be on refugees, and humanitarian and development assistance for the fall-out from this tragedy,” he said.

The UK is currently evacuating British nationals and local translators – with 600 troops being sent to assist with this effort.

The Home Office said it is working to “protect British nationals and help former UK staff and other eligible people travel to the UK”.

“The Home Office has already resettled over 3,300 Afghan staff and their families who have worked for the UK,” it said in a statement.

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Sky correspondent sees Taliban procession

“We will continue to fulfil our international obligations and moral commitments.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said the UK had “reduced” its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, “but our ambassador remains in Kabul and UK government staff continue to work to provide assistance to British nationals and to our Afghan staff”.

They added: “We are doing all we can to enable remaining British nationals, who want to leave Afghanistan, to do so.”

According to The Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow is going to be flown out of the country by tonight.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who is chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was “quite clear that the battle for Afghanistan is now lost”.

In April the Taliban had limited control in Afghanistan
Map shows Taliban gains in Afghanistan
Taliban gains in Afghanistan 15 August

“It’s been an abject defeat and the United States and United Kingdom have been routed,” he told Sky News.

“This is pretty stunning, frankly.

“It was a decision we took to withdraw and to announce that we wouldn’t be willing to fight, so perhaps it’s hardly surprising.

“What we’re now seeing is what we fought 20 years to stop, which is a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.”

The prime minister said on Friday that Britain’s sacrifices in the country were not “in vain” and that the “vast bulk” of British citizens in Afghanistan will be brought back over the “next few days”.

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