The UK cannot write a “blank cheque” for aid in Afghanistan while the Taliban are in control, the Prime Minister has said after being pressed to address the famine now facing Afghans.
Boris Johnson also faced angry calls of “answer the question!” from the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who asked for details of how the 20,000 Afghans promised resettlement in the UK in coming years would be helped to reach the country.
At Prime Minister’s Questions ahead of the Budget statement on Wednesday, Mr Blackford said: “Before we turn to domestic matters I think it is right and important to raise the dire humanitarian situation that is developing in Afghanistan.”
The Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP cited UN statistics that suggested more than half the Afghan population or “about 22.8 million people” face acute food insecurity, and that “3.2 million children under five could suffer acute malnutrition”.
Mr Blackford said: “They are dying and they need our help. It is only two months since the allied forces relinquished control of the country, so can the Prime Minister update us on what his Government is doing to end the famine in Afghanistan?”
Boris Johnson replied that the Government had doubled its in-year aid commitment to £286m, but added: “What we can’t do at the moment is write a completely blank cheque to the Taliban government, Taliban authorities, we need to ensure that that country does not slip back into being a haven for terrorism and a narco-state.”
Blackford countered that Mr Johnson had given no details of “tangible actions” his Government was taking, and asked for the latest information on the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme announced in August.
“The Afghan people are being left with no updates and vague targets,” said Mr Blackford, “so can the Prime Minister finally tell us when the resettlement scheme will open, and can he guarantee that 20,000 Afghans will be resettled and when exactly is the deadline for that to happen?”
Mr Johnson said 15,000 people had been flown out of Afghanistan during the evacuation of Kabul and were now settling in the UK.
He added: “We continue to engage, we engage with the Taliban, this country was one of the first to reach out and begin a dialogue and what we are insisting on is safe passage.”
Mr Blackford called out: “Just answer the question!”
Mr Johnson concluded: “Just to get to his point – which he rather uncivilly calls out – what we are insisting on is there is safe passage for those who wish to come and settle in this country to whom we owe an obligation and that is what we are doing, and I have answered the question.”