Unfortunately, I was not called to speak in yesterday’s Afghanistan debate. Below is the speech that I would have delivered had I been called:
20 years, 457 UK military deaths, thousands of life-changing injuries, £22 billion spent.
I will use my time today to focus on issues affecting our veterans, the plight of Afghan journalists, and the UK’s obligation to the interpreters and humanitarian organisations that have supported British efforts in Afghanistan.
Veteran mental health issues are a hidden epidemic. The government is failing to provide our veterans and their families with the respect and support that their service should afford them.
Veterans in my constituency and the surrounding area are fortunate to have access to the newly-established East Durham Veterans Trust. I am proud to be a trustee of this charity which provides exceptional practical assistance and mental health support to veterans in my constituency.
As co-chair of the National Union of Journalists Parliamentary Group, I feel compelled to convey to the House the terrifying reality of the situation that journalists and media workers in Afghanistan are facing.
It is brave and dedicated journalists – many of them women – that have brought us the shocking and tragic scenes of the sweeping advance of the Taliban across the country, and into Kabul in recent days.
There has been a rapid escalation of violence and threats against journalists and independent media.
I would like to ensure that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are aware that the National Union of Journalists has learned that Taliban forces were making house-to-house searches in Kabul, and three journalists were detained.
Media outlets have been forcibly closed down. As of today, over 140 and counting or taken over by the Taliban to broadcast their own propaganda. Staff have fled or are in hiding. Women journalists are being banned from working and are fearful for their lives.
It remains unclear what measures have been implemented to secure visas for journalists and media workers, how many have actually been brought to the UK to date, and how many more are left behind in need of urgent assistance.
The UK government has a clear moral obligation to support journalists and independent media in Afghanistan who will be operating under enormous strain in the future.
The government has been far too slow to provide sanctuary to those Afghans who have served alongside and supported the British presence in Afghanistan. This is a shameful dereliction of duty. Even now, there are reports of Afghans facing unacceptable bureaucratic hurdles. Our resettlement scheme must urgently be expanded to ensure people to whom we owe a huge debt are not abandoned.
The Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary cannot jeopardise the lives of thousands of people who have assisted our Armed Forces, aid agencies and humanitarian organisations for the last twenty years in Afghanistan.
The only message this disastrous and appalling policy will send is that this is a government that cannot be trusted, a country that cannot be trusted, and it will prevent potential future allies working with us.