Nandy: Government has 'serious questions to answer' over 'chaotic' handling of Afghanistan crisis

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan Credit: PA

The government has "serious questions to answer" over its handling of the Afghanistan crisis, the shadow foreign secretary has said as the blame game over the handling of the withdrawal after a 20-year campaign in the country began.

The Sunday Times reported that fingers were being pointed at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) over a lack of escape routes from the country, with claims that up to 9,000 people who may have been eligible to escape – such as women, journalists, and aid workers – were left behind.

The newspaper also reported that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s decision to remain on holiday at the start of the crisis had meant up to 1,000 people had not been evacuated who could have been.

The Sunday Times claims up to 9,000 Afghans eligible to escape the country were left behind, Credit: AP

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously said he believed there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan, although Mr Wallace said some of those were staying willingly.

However, when speaking to ITV News, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said this figure was a "huge underestimate".

The Wigan MP continued: "My office is tracking cases that Labour MPs are currently dealingwith – people who’ve been left behind, we’re dealing with more than 5,000 at the current time, which includes British nationals, which includes many high-profile Afghans who supported the British effort, as well as people with disabilities and children who’ve been separated from their families."

Referring to a report in The Observer that thousands of emails from MPs and charities highlighting potentially eligible evacuation cases went unread by the Foreign Office's crisis centre, Ms Nandy said the situation had become so "chaotic" that most MPs began emailing Mr Wallace directly.

The 42-year-old added that the crisis centre would no longer continue meaning "you’ve got all of these people’s cases who’ve been logged with various different parts of government and nobody actually coordinating.

"I don’t think the government has any sense at all of the scale of the crisis that is about to engulf us.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said her office is dealing with more than 5,000 people eligible for evacuation who have been left behind

Ms Nandy also berated the government for a lack of planning to deal with the situation.

"The government had 18 months to plan for this eventuality," she told ITV News.

"They knew the precise date would be August 31 four-and-a-half months ago and yet the foreign secretary, the prime minister and the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office were all on holiday.

"The handling centre which processed people’s applications hadn’t even been set up until two weeks ago.

"There really are serious questions to answer for the government and for the foreign secretary in particular about how it could possibly be that despite them reassuring MPs that everything was in hand and in order, very few of the basics had even been put in place and as a consequence people have been left behind and the consequences for some of those are appalling."

The government has 'serious questions to answer' over its handling of the Afghanistan crisis, says Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy

In a statement to the Sunday Times, the FCDO said: “This has been the biggest and most challenging evacuation in living memory – a team effort that would not have been possible without the Foreign Office.”

The FCDO told The Observer: “We have been working tirelessly to evacuate over 15,000 people from Afghanistan in the last two weeks.

"We deployed a 24/7 cross-Whitehall team based in our crisis hub to triage incoming emails and calls from British nationals, Arap applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans.”

A spokesperson added: “We always cautioned that the nature of the security situation in Afghanistan meant that we would not be able to evacuate everyone we wanted to.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of "complacency and incompetence" with "tragic consequences".

He continued: "We’ve known for 18 months that this moment was coming.

"It is unconscionable that there was no strategy in place to get all the British nationals and Afghans we owed a debt to out.

“I pay tribute to all the FCDO staff and military personnel who have, as ever, stepped up when their leaders have failed them.

“The fact that so many emails have simply gone unopened is not the fault of civil servants but of government ministers who have been missing in action during this whole crisis.

"MPs and their staff have been hearing harrowing stories from so many people we should have taken care of but who have been abandoned to the Taliban.”

Labour MPs tweeted about the efforts their staff had gone to collate the information to send to officials.

Sir Keir added: “Can the government tell us how many of the people in those emails got out, or more importantly haven’t who were eligible to?

“We need urgent answers from the Prime Minister on what will be done to ensure the safety of those left behind, on proper support for MPs to be able to do their job and on new leadership at the Foreign Office.

“Serious times call for serious leadership and this government simply isn’t up to the job.”