Tobias Ellwood facing Defence Committee no confidence vote after Taliban remarks

Tobias Ellwood facing Defence Committee no confidence vote after Taliban remarks. Credit: PA

Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood is facing a no confidence motion after publishing a video claiming that Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban regained power.

The Conservative former defence minister has faced a backlash from members of his own committee after claiming that security in Afghanistan has “vastly improved” and “corruption is down” since the fundamentalists returned in 2021.

He has called for Britain to reopen its embassy in Kabul, following on from the European Union re-establishing a physical presence in the territory last year.

Mr Ellwood has since deleted his video report from Helmand province – which was praised as “positive” by the Taliban – from Twitter and expressed regret over its recording.

But his apology has not prevented members of the cross-party Commons Defence Committee from attempting to oust him as chairman.

The committee has confirmed that Tory MPs Mark Francois and Richard Drax, along with Labour’s Kevan Jones and Derek Twigg, submitted a no confidence motion on Wednesday.

Asked why he supported a vote on the former army captain’s chairmanship, Mr Jones said: “I support this motion because it is not the first time the chairman has made comments which are at odds with the committee.

“His latest video is a step too far.”

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Mr Ellwood has yet to respond to the publication of the motion.

In a statement published beforehand on Thursday, Mr Ellwood said his “reflections of my personal visit could have been better worded”, no matter how “well intentioned” they were.

Afghanistan was recaptured by Taliban fighters in a lightning offensive in August 2021 as the West removed its troops following a 20-year occupation.

Mr Ellwood tweeted: “I’ve always believed politics includes looking over the horizon, and daring to explore viable, long term solutions - no matter how challenging the problem.

“But with that comes a duty to put your hand up when you get it wrong - as I did in reporting my recent Afghan visit.”

Labour MP Kevan Jones confirmed he is backing a no confidence motion in Tobias Ellwood. Credit: PA

The Bournemouth East MP said he witnessed the “increasing restrictions on women and girls” while in Afghanistan but argued that the crackdown on female liberties indicated “our current strategy, of shouting from afar, after abruptly abandoning the country in 2021, is not working”.

He said the “awkward truth” for the UK and its allies was that they “chose to cede power to the Taliban” and stated that there were were “no easy choices” when it came to assisting the country’s 40 million people.

“Again, I am sorry for my wording and hope this places my thinking into context,” he said.

Mr Ellwood’s clip was labelled “utterly bizarre” by Defence Committee MPs who said it “lauded” the Taliban’s governance of Afghanistan without referencing the strict restrictions the regime has placed on women and girls.

Mr Francois told Rishi Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that he and some of his committee colleagues were “absolutely stunned” by the chairman’s video.

He said it failed to mention that the Taliban are “still trying to identify and kill Afghan civilians who sided with Nato forces”, nor did it comment on girls not being able to attend school.

Mark Francois has raised Tobias Ellwood’s Afghanistan video with the prime minister. Credit: PA

“Can I make it plain that that was not in our name,” Mr Francois said. The prime minister told the backbencher he would “look into” the video.

Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said he had not asked the Conservative leader whether he had watched Mr Ellwood’s since-deleted video.

Downing Street reiterated that Mr Ellwood’s view on the Afghan situation was “not an assessment that the UK nor the prime minister agrees with at all”.

Asked whether Mr Ellwood was fit to lead the Defence Committee after making the remarks, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “I think that is first and foremost a decision for parliamentarians themselves and not one for the prime minister to seek to influence.”

A no confidence motion in a select committee chairman requires at least 10 days’ sitting notice, meaning it will not be debated by the panel until September due to the Commons being about to head for its summer recess.

According to committee rules, a no confidence motion must be agreed to by the majority of members, with at least two members from the largest party and at least one member from another party voting in favour.

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