Burnley Council's offer of support for the Afghan resettlement scheme continues the best traditions of our country/ Antony Higginbotham
This week Parliament has been recalled from the summer recess for the first time since 2013.
Back then it was to discuss the conflict in Syria and Government’s proposal to offer air-cover and support to those battling the brutal Assad regime. It was a fast moving, unpredictable situation and one which necessitated Parliament having its say.
This week was no different. We have all seen the harrowing scenes coming from Afghanistan.
The lightening speed at which the Taliban has seized ground, the executions they have conducted for those who worked in support of coalition forces, and the anguish and panic at Kabul Airport.
There remain thousands of people in Afghanistan that we need to get home, and in being recalled, Parliament was able to ensure we get this right. It includes aid workers delivering emergency assistance on the ground; charities; diplomats at the UK embassy; and of course, the many Afghan civilians who have worked alongside our troops and now fear for their lives.
The scenes this week should not, however, detract from all the work that has been done over two decades. When the Taliban was removed from power all those years ago, ordinary Afghan civilians were given hope. Hope that life could be better, that opportunities would open, that they could go to school and university, and that they could finally decide their own future at the ballot box.
It came because of the work and sacrifices of our armed forces, the armed forces of our allies and the armed forces of Afghanistan itself. They stood shoulder to shoulder and delivered what was asked of them.
I know that there are veterans across Burnley and Padiham who will now be questioning what it was all for, reflecting on their own memories of Afghanistan – good and bad. We should all be proud of what they did for us.
They provided security for us here at home, dismantling terrorist training camps, and didn’t just provide hope for ordinary Afghans but delivered on it too. Schools were built and used, communities flourished, and the persecution of minorities was ended.
We know, however, that despite the warm words from the Taliban there are many who now live in fear for their lives. From the interpreters and special forces who fought with us, to the female judges and journalists who stood up to make a difference.
That is why the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have created the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme. Under that scheme Afghan women, children and others most in need will be welcomed to the UK. And for our locally employed staff, including interpreters, the ARAP scheme will ensure those who are at risk are brought to the UK.
I am proud that Burnley Council is one of the many which have come forward to offer support. It continues the best traditions of our country, welcoming those who need our protection, and demonstrates what our new immigration system is about. Firm, but fair. Secure, but welcoming.
Each council offering to help just a few families will result in thousands of people offered protection.
Anyone who watched the debate in Parliament will also have seen the criticism levelled at the Trump and Biden administrations in the USA, including from me. This was a US-led intervention, but it involved hundreds of thousands of personnel from the UK and other allied nations. And asking for support at the outset must also bring obligations for consultation at the end.
Such discussion might have avoided some of the scenes we have witnessed.
So whilst the way the withdrawal has been handled may not have been of our choosing, our task now is to preserve the security gains that have been made, to support our veterans and to get our people and Afghans out as quickly as possible.
If you are a veteran and need support, please ask for it. Me and my team are always available, or you can go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/support-for-veterans.