Dominic Raab: Speed of Taliban's takeover is 'lesson we've all got to learn from'

16 August 2021, 17:23 | Updated: 16 August 2021, 18:03

Dominic Raab spoke to broadcasters following a Cobra meeting on Monday
Dominic Raab spoke to broadcasters following a Cobra meeting on Monday. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Dominic Raab has said everyone was surprised by the pace at which the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, as he described the situation as a "new reality".

The Foreign Secretary spoke to broadcasters after a Cobra meeting was held on Monday in response to the deteriorating situation in the country.

He would not be drawn on the number of refugees the UK would take.

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He said: "Everyone, I think, has been surprised by the scale and the pace at which the Taliban have taken over in Afghanistan, and that's a lesson that we've all got to learn from.

"But the truth is what matters right now is focusing on getting British nationals out, getting out those who have so loyally served the UK, and making sure that the gains that we've made over 20 years are not lost."

Mr Raab added: "It is not what we wanted, but we have to deal with the new reality.

"We're making it clear with our partners with all the means at our disposal, that we will hold the Taliban to account, to its commitments, to have a new start in Afghanistan.

"It's clearly not going to be to the values that the UK, the west, the European Union, the Americans believe in, but we can have a moderating influence. I think it's important we use all of the policy tools at our disposal - working with our partners - to try and achieve that."

On taking refugees, the Foreign Secretary said: "We're working very carefully. We are obviously a big-hearted nation, we've got the criteria for asylum, that's set in law, we work with the UN on that. We're working very carefully on what kind of further commitment we might make."

Asked whether he could give a ballpark figure, he added: "Not at this point."

Mr Raab did not rule out sanctions against Afghanistan if the Taliban did not uphold commitments surrounding human rights and preventing terrorism.

Asked how the UK could hold the group to account without a presence in the country, he said: "Well, ultimately, through working with our partners, through everything from the sanctions that we can apply, to the ODA (official development assistance) that we will hold back pending reform and a more inclusive government.

"I think there are levers, and we know from the political commission of the Taliban in Doha that they want to... they made a series of commitments, a series of undertakings, and I think it's right for the UK, but also critically working with our partners, that they are held to the undertakings that they've made."

He said whether sanctions were sought against Afghanistan would "depend on the behaviour of the Taliban".

He told broadcasters: "We'll use every means at our disposal.

"We need to work with our partners, we need to broaden the caucus of countries that are willing to exercise positive influence, to rein in the worst excesses we saw in the past of the Taliban, and we need to consolidate and try and stabilise the gains - which are considerable - that we've made with so much blood, sweat, tears and loss of life, over 20 years, and that's what we're committed to doing."

Mr Raab also defended not coming back from his holiday sooner, insisting: "The reality is the modern business of being a foreign secretary, whether you're away on travel, or the very occasional time you get to go away on leave, I can always be in direct control of what the Foreign Office is doing."