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The Conservative Party Conference took place in Manchester from Sunday, October 3 through Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

It was the first one since 2019, which was two months before their victory in the December 12 election that year.

UK in crisis

This year’s conference took place during the ongoing petrol supply problems and shock record-breaking hikes in gas futures on Tuesday and Wednesday:

On top of that, on Wednesday, Reuters reported that the UK’s petroleum regulator rejected Shell’s plans to redevelop the Jackdaw gasfield in the North Sea (emphases in purple mine):

“We’re disappointed by the decision and are considering the implications,” a Shell spokesperson said.

It was unclear on what grounds the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) refused to approve the environmental statement for the field’s development.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, under whose umbrella OPRED operates, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Maddening.

The supply chain crisis for food continues. On Wednesday, The Times reported The National Pig Association warned retailers that 120,000 pigs would have to be slaughtered because of a lack of butchers. Some pig farmers are closing down altogether.

Some supermarkets are also suffering from empty shelves. Tesco, however, is bucking the trend. The Times reported that the supermarket chain is:

often highest up the pecking order when it comes to suppliers committing to make the business a priority …

Good for them.

Conference theme disappointing

The conference theme was … Build Back Better.

How awful.

Here it is draped across Central Station Manchester:

The Conservatives riffed on this in a Bake Off-style event. Pictured with Prime Minister Boris Johnson is Home Secretary Priti Patel:

Having listened to some of the speeches and read excerpts from others, they were all light in content. Most of them were pep rally or visionary statements rather than what plans Cabinet ministers have for the nation.

As The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant wrote:

Never at a Tory Conference has so little been said, by so many, to so few.

Sunday, October 3

As the conference opened, rumours circulated about three unnamed Labour MPs thinking of crossing the aisle to the Conservatives, as the Mail on Sunday reported:

Guido Fawkes had more on the story (emphases in red Guido’s):

… this is due to disillusionment with Starmer’s leadership, with the MPs already having opened up “lines of communication” with Tory whips. In related news, a senior Labour MP was spotted by a co-conspirator chatting with two Mail on Sunday hacks and three senior Tory advisors at a conference bar last night…

The day’s big event, according to The Spectator, was the drinks party that the 1922 Committee of backbenchers held, sponsored by ConservativeHome. Interestingly, a long-time Labour MP for north-west London — Barry Gardiner — was in attendance:

… the main focus of the night was the 1922 drinks with ConservativeHome in a room stuffed full of parliamentary talent and, for some reason, Barry Gardiner.

Strangely, Boris did not appear, leaving a gap which Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak ably filled (video):

While Johnson was not scheduled to make an appearance here, Prime Ministers have traditionally done so in the past to pay tribute to their colleagues. His ‘disappointing’ absence – in the words of one disgruntled backbencher – left a vacuum for Sunak to fill, in a room full of MPs who will presumably one day decide who Johnson’s successor should be.

The Chancellor leapt to the stage to tell fellow Tories about what he was most looking forward too at conference: Michael Gove dancing, the PM running in a full suit (not just a shirt) and ‘machine like message discipline from every single one of you – and that means you too Cabinet.’ He added that ‘I’ve got your back’ to anxious MPs in the room and that ‘for the record I too am a low tax conservative’ – welcome words for those party donors who Mr S[teerpike, columnist] understands attended a ‘tense’ meeting earlier at the Midland, amid considerable unease at the recent NI [National Insurance] hike.

In such circumstances, perhaps it’s understandable that Boris would stay away.

According to The Telegraph, senior Conservatives have warned Boris not to dream up any more future tax hikes:

Earlier that day, Boris gesticulated wildly at the BBC’s Andrew Marr, saying, ‘You have no fiercer opponent to tax rises than me’. This probably means more tax rises are on the way:

The Spectator has more on the interview.

On tax hikes, Sir Desmond Swayne MP told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer the raw truth. He added that lower taxes will enable greater economic growth:

Another event that Boris avoided was the one by the Tory Reform Group (TRG), which wants the Conservatives to move closer to the centre politically. They are Remainers. The Spectator reported:

Theresa May’s former deputy Damian Green welcomed attendees

Green, a mainstay of various causes on the left-ish wing of the party over the past two decades, told activists that it was their task to ‘make sure that the voice of moderate conservatism, centre-right conservatism is as strong as possible within the party’ – a job ‘never more important than today because there are times when I slightly feel that it is only people like us that stop this party drifting back to being seen as the nasty party.’ A tacit rejoinder to Priti Patel perhaps?

But then it was time for the speaker and the great white hope of Tory moderation. Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, took to the stage to ecstatic applause and, like Green, was under no illusions about the awesome responsibility he and his One Nation caucus members share – to keep the Conservative party effectively sane …

There was also ample time for several potshots at the current Tory leader Boris Johnson, with whom Tugendhat is said to enjoy a wary relationship.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, tipped to be a future Party leader, also made the rounds that day (video):

The fringes were packed last night as Tory ministers did the rounds. Liz Truss, the darling of the free market think tanks, appeared at the Think Tent equipped with a magnificent blow dry and an applause-winning speech which castigated cancel culture as ‘fundamentally wrong.’ That and other jibes at identity politics in her conference address lead the Daily Mail this morning to ask whether she is in fact the new Mrs Thatcher.

Several reporters wrote about her new hairdo, which, to me, didn’t look much different from the old one.

Returning to the mysterious Labour people who might want to change parties, here’s Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, a former Labour MP, heaping praise on Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Boris’s levelling up programme. Burnham spoke to Trevor Phillips on Sky News that morning. Hmm:

Neither Andy Burnham nor Barry Gardiner is a Conservative. Crossing the aisle for ideals they don’t believe in seems a rather rash way of getting their own back at Keir Starmer.

Boris made four appearances at conference that day, including one for the Scottish Conservatives. Guido captured his wit along with audio:

The PM warned of a “crackpot coalition” between the SNP and Labour – “the only way they could” kick the Tories out.

He described the Labour conference as “a total rabble”, saying it had the air to him of “a seriously rattled bus conductor” facing an “insurrection on the top deck of the bus”, or the “captain of a Mediterranean cruise ship facing insurrection by a bunch of Somali pirates”.

Douglas Ross MP/MSP also addressed Scottish Conservatives. As party leader in Scotland, he wants to position the party as that of the nation’s working class. It’s a good move, as The Spectator reported:

Like all good fables, Douglas Ross’s speech at Tory conference had a beginning, middle and end. Act One detailed the many iniquities of the SNP, from their dysfunctional vaccine passport scheme to their Hate Crime Act, and most of all their agitation for Scotland to break away from the UK. Act Two took the sword to Labour, bemoaned its abandonment of working-class voters and its internal divisions over the constitution. Theirs was not the party to take on the SNP. Only one party was and it was the subject of Act Three, in which Ross deepened a theme begun under Ruth Davidson’s leadership: the Scottish Conservatives as the party of the Scottish working-class.

He hit all the familiar notes about the SNP’s failings in government, the ones that never seem to stick longer than two or three news cycles and are invariably forgotten about by the next election. He also hinted at an interesting theme that, if teased out carefully, could come into greater play. It is the perception, no longer wholly limited to unionists, that Nicola Sturgeon is a bit… off. Out of touch. Superior. Maybe even a bit of a snob.

In other news, last week, Labour’s Angela Rayner called Conservatives ‘Tory scum’. Feisty Dehenna Davison MP, representing Bishop Auckland as the constituency’s first Conservative, had ‘Tory Scum’ badges made.

This harks back to 1948, when Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan said the Conservatives were ‘lower than vermin’. Following that, the Conservatives formed the Vermin Club. Club member Margaret Roberts — who would become Margaret Thatcher — also had ‘Tory Vermin’ badges made, as Nigel Farage told Dehenna Davison on GB News:

Party chairman Oliver Dowden pledged that the Conservatives would do away with ugly new housing developments by strengthening planning laws.

He also assured the public that they would have turkeys for Christmas, referring to ongoing supply chain problems.

Monday, October 4

Monday opened with the latest ConservativeHome popularity poll.

Liz Truss is at the top. Other MPs pictured are (left to right) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi:

Guido analysed the results, excerpted below:

The turn round in her fortunes from last year when she was being tipped to be sacked from the Cabinet is quite something. Liz is one of the increasingly rare consistently free market voices around the Cabinet table…

Rishi Sunak is down by some 10 points and moves from second to fifth place. Rishi’s tax hikes have clearly taken the gloss off him with the true blue believers. 

Grant Shapps [Transport] and Priti Patel are bumping along the bottom in barely positive approval territory. Shapps has been doing fairly well with the incredibly difficult transport brief. Patel is suffering because she has failed to do the seemingly impossible – stop the cross channel migrants. Tory activists are unforgiving, they don’t want excuses, they want results.

It was the turn of Rishi Sunak to address the party faithful.

A rise in council tax would not go down well. Meanwhile, protesters pelted Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP with a traffic cone:

Some at conference are disappointed with Sunak, whose budget comes up in a few weeks’ time. Steve Baker MP is pictured in the second tweet:

Boris was out and about in Greater Manchester. He spoke to an interviewer about policing and said that the Government needs to change its culture, which has become misogynistic, particularly in light of the Sarah Everard murder earlier this year, committed by … a policeman, who recently received a life sentence.

In other news, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab plans to reform UK human rights legislation and do away with the ties to EU human rights legislation we are still under.

With regard to the Labour mystery, Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, had a conversation with Levelling Up minister Michael Gove, whom he had praised the day before. The Mail reported that Burnham was also due to address Conservatives at a fringe event sponsored by Transport for the North the following day. Hmm.

The cervix question that appeared at Labour’s conference was also brought up with Conservatives. Dominic Raab responded by bringing up both misogyny and misandry in a highly confused way (video):

Two MPs decided to have a bit of fun with the issue as they drove to Manchester together:

Guido recapped their amusing exchange:

Health-conscious Conservative MPs Marco Longhi and Lee Anderson don’t want to fanny about when it comes to their well-being. Marco, according to their road-trip video, made sure to receive a cervix exam before heading to conference this week. Always better to be safe than sorry…

Why is it that no one ever asks if women have a prostate gland?

On the subject of health, Desmond Swayne told Julia Hartley-Brewer why he is firmly against vaccine passports:

Lord Frost (pictured on the right) threatened the EU over the post-Brexit trade issues with Northern Ireland. Outside of the conference, pig farmers protested over the inability to get their stock to market. Boris had said that government cannot solve every issue, referring to the supply chain problem. He also told British businesses to hike staff salaries, which did not go down well, either:

I think they should give the meat away. A lot of poor families would appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 5

Boris began the day with an interview to LBC’s Nick Ferrari. Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain had blocked some of Britain’s roads for the ninth consecutive day.

Despite injunctions from Priti Patel’s Home Office, their human blockades continue.

Boris told Ferrari they are ‘irresponsible crusties’ (video). The question remains whether Extinction Rebellion gets any Government funding:

Dominic Raab confirmed in his speech that he would be reform the Human Rights Act to free it from EU hackles.

Guido’s post includes a quote and this summary:

They will detach it from the ECHR, enabling quicker deportations of convicted criminals and swifter action on domestic abusers …

Raab’s successor at the Foreign Office, Liz Truss, confirmed a trip to India later this month, ahead of COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Guido had a chat with her:

Among other topics, the foreign secretary confided in Guido she was finding the new department’s mandarins to be “a bit ‘Yes, Minister’”…

Rishi Sunak addressed the Northern Powerhouse Leaders’ Lunch.

Guido says:

Sunak claimed that there is a “new age of optimism” in the north thanks to Red Wall Tories, and heaped them with praise for “helping to change our party and change our country“. “In me, you have a Chancellor who is going to be with you every step of the way,” he added.

See? I told you these speeches were content-free.

Later in the day, he appeared at a fringe event where he was asked about the cost of Net Zero. This was his alarming answer:

Health Secretary Sajid Javid promised another reform of the NHS, which mostly involves digitisation. I can think of more pressing NHS concerns and agree with Guido:

… pouring in taxpayers’ money without checking how it’s being spent isn’t enough. That cash needs to be put to good use. Reviewing the eye-watering pay packets of some NHS diversity managers would be a start…

The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope interviewed Oliver Dowden, who is thinking about resurrecting the singing of the National Anthem at conference, calling it a ‘splendid idea’.

Hope also took the opportunity to present Dowden with a ‘Tory Scum’ badge, which he put on and said he would wear for the duration of the interview. Hope suggested he wear it until the end of conference.

This video shows the badge exchange. Hope gives us more information on the aforementioned Vermin Club:

Guido says that the badges were most popular. Dehenna Davison had to order more:

Many conference-goers have spent the last couple of days asking Davison for one of her badges, only to be disappointed upon being told she’d run out. Good news however, after Davison put in an emergency order for 400 more given their popularity…

The most outrageous session of the day — and a British first — was an address by the Prime Minister’s wife to Party faithful. No Prime Minister’s spouse — we’ve had two husbands in that role — has ever made a party political address until now:

Never mind the subject matter: was it the right thing for Carrie Johnson to do — even if she is a very good public speaker? Boris watched from a distance.

Polling stable

I’ll review Boris’s closing speech in tomorrow’s post.

Post-conference polling is stable. YouGov’s was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Sir Desmond Swayne explained to Julia Hartley-Brewer that Boris’s popularity and the lack of ideas from the Opposition have buoyed the Conservatives:

What Government should do next

Health Secretary Sajid Javid needs to keep a gimlet eye on NHS spending, especially on things like this:

Guido says:

The NHS is recruiting a supplier to deliver “compassionate conversations training” to 14,000 front facing NHS staff in a publicly funded contract worth a mind-boggling £3 million. The contract tender, which was published yesterday and closes on 5 November 2021, says the aim is to equip NHS staff with “the skills they need to handle challenging situations with compassion whilst ensuring they feel able to look after their own wellbeing if needed”. Guido assumed that doctors were already taught about the importance of a good bedside manner…

It’s almost ludicrous to think that this weekend Javid promised a forensic review of the NHS’s management and leadership whilst the NHS continues to recklessly splash cash on diversity roles. Just six months ago Guido revealed that the NHS was hiring eight more ‘diversity, equality and inclusion managers’ across the country, with salaries up to as much as a whopping £62,000. If Javid is going to cut down those waiting list times he needs to focus taxpayers’ money on the clinical front line, not nonsense make-work contracts and diversity roles…

Guido says it is also time for Boris to reconsider the current Government moratorium on fracking:

If Boris wants to energise Britain, domestic gas production should be part of that mix; it would provide energy security when Britain’s energy needs are being threatened by the Russians and the the French. Boris is now in a position to do something glorious, to stop pussy-footing around and leave no stone unturned or unfracked. So get on with it…

This is what Boris had to say on the subject while he was Mayor of London:

I won’t be holding my breath on either of those propositions.

Tomorrow: Boris’s keynote speech

Boris Johnson is now into his third year as Prime Minister.

On Wednesday and Thursday, September 15 and 16, he reshuffled some of his cabinet and ministerial posts, signalling that he is more than halfway through his premiership. In other words, this will be the major reshuffle to lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

I hope that Boris does not go for a 2023 election, unless it is late in the year. The coronavirus crisis will have put much of the Conservative manifesto agenda on hold for two years. As such, not much has been accomplished to date, as Andrew Neil, who recently resigned from GB News, says:

Boris has appointed more Leave ministers as well as more minority and female ministers, which will not matter to most small-c conservatives:

Highlights of the reshuffle follow.

Dominic Raab no longer Foreign Secretary

It looks as if dithering over Afghanistan while holidaying in Crete has finished Dominic Raab’s days as Foreign Secretary. He had to do the walk of shame after his demotion:

That said, Boris has found a new job for him as Justice Secretary.

Raab will also continue to be Deputy Prime Minister, a role he handled extremely well in April 2020, when Boris was hospitalised with coronavirus.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace defended his fellow MP and the move in an interview with BBC Breakfast:

Wallace said of Raab: “Dominic is by trade a lawyer, he started his life in the Foreign Office as a human rights lawyer and he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice, which is actually a very, very important role and a role he desperately understands.”

Liz Truss becomes new Foreign Secretary

Former Trade Secretary Liz Truss replaces Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, with Anne-Marie Trevelyan taking her place.

Post-Brexit, Truss has made various trade deals with other nations, notably Australia and Japan.

She also remains minister for women and equalities.

Truss is popular with grassroots conservatives and her name has often been mentioned as a future party leader and Prime Minister.

She succeeded not only in trade but also in refusing wokery in 2020 …

… and in 2021, as Guido Fawkes reported on June 16 (emphases mine):

Liz Truss tells Times Radio most people aren’t interested in the culture war…

My role as equality minister is to make sure everybody in Britain is treated equally regardless of their sex, their sexuality and their race. What we have seen over the past few years is the development of identity politics where there has been division created. People are described as being members of a group rather than for their own personal, individual humanity and dignity… We have just launched for example a big data project looking where are the gaps in education, employment and enterprise across the country, and how we can fix those. That is the approach we need to take… I think some of the identity politics we have seen focus on symbolism over real results has been divisive… I think most people aren’t interested in this socalled culture war, what they’re interested in is, “Am I being given a fair chance? Do I have a good chance of getting a job? Am I treated fairly by public services?” And that’s why I think our equality agenda should focus onthose bread and butter issues that are of concern to everyone in the country.”

She is consistently among the most popular of the Cabinet members. This survey is from March 2021:

She can even ably dodge camera equipment during an interview:

Nadine Dorries moves from Health and Social Care to Culture Secretary

In what is hoped to please grassroots small-c conservative voters, Nadine Dorries now heads Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), replacing Oliver Dowden, who, as new co-chairman of the Conservative Party, will formulate a strategy for the next general election.

Most of these grassroots supporters are fed up with the BBC. Will Dorries take on Auntie Beeb?

I do not put much stock in that possibility. Resurrecting Dorries’s tweets from several years ago are no indication of her current willingness to oppose the BBC on anything much:

The BBC have just appointed a firmly left-wing executive editor of BBC News, Jess Brammar. At least one Conservative MP, Brendan Clarke-Smith, was unhappy about the possibility of her appointment back in August:

I will not be holding my breath for Dorries to take her on, although others in the left-wing and anti-Brexit political establishment are angry about Dorries’s appointment, as Guido Fawkes reports; he has screenshots of her past tweets (emphasis in the original):

She’s been in the job for 17 hours and is already annoying all the right people… 

John Whittingdale returns to backbenches

I have doubts about Dorries because one of the DCMS ministers, John Whittingdale, was supposed to take on the BBC in 2016 and never did. He also washed his hands of removing free TV licences for most over-75s, saying it was a decision for the BBC. Is this why he got the sack?

During the Euro 2020 soccer tournament this year, Whittingdale told Kay Burley of Sky News that travel restrictions were lifted for ‘important’ people associated with the matches:

Speaking on Sky News, John Whittingdale was asked why players, officials and others coming to London for the Euros final on 11 July should be allowed in without self-isolating.

He said: “We’ve always said that for some people who are important, players, for instance …”

The presenter, Kay Burley, interrupted him, saying: “So people who want to go on holiday are not important. Is that what you’re saying?”

Whittingdale’s last pronouncement, standing in for his boss Oliver Dowden, was about a proposed mandate to make all BBC and ITV output ‘distinctively British’. That was on September 16. It will be interesting to see whether Nadine Dorries will insist on it.

Newsnight argument over Dorries

Nadine Dorries was the subject of an argument between Conservative MP Charles Walker and former Conservative MP, Remainer Anna Soubry, who lost her seat in December 2019.

By the way, this was Anna Soubry with Nigel Farage either just before or just after the Brexit referendum in June 2016:

https://image.vuukle.com/53c514e6-2ea5-43ee-8d62-ab3605e89230-4b7901f5-a9d3-4364-8bc8-df6af8f09a3c

But I digress.

The discussion between Soubry and Charles Walker took place on the BBC’s Newsnight on September 15:

Here’s the video, with Labour MP Peter Kyle sitting at the desk with presenter Emily Maitlis:

Guido Fawkes has the highlights:

Nadine Dorries provided the biggest clash, as the eternally bitter Soubry ranted that her appointment “actually says everything that’s wrong and rotten about this prime minister’s stewardship of this country”. Charles Walker had some thoughts:

“Nadine Dorries has been a health minister, a minister of state, at an incredibly difficult time for the department of health; has been an extremely good minister for mental health; and really to come onto this programme and just trash her like that is just not a very nice thing to do to be perfectly honest”

Responding to Soubry’s claim that people don’t really care about reshuffles in the real world, Walker pointed out “Why is it the lead story on Newsnight, and why are you appearing on Newsnight?” Why indeed…

However, there is a personal reason why Anna Soubry is angry with Nadine Dorries.

On July 1, 2016, one week after David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader because of the Brexit referendum result, tensions were running high not only in the Commons but also among the public.

Soubry went out near Parliament to address her fellow Remain supporters. Dorries tweeted that Soubry was under the influence. Soubry demanded that Dorries retract the tweet. The Times has the full story, which ends with this:

Update (25.07.2016): Following publication of this article, Nadine Dorries MP has withdrawn her tweet about passing Anna Soubry MP leaving the bar before she attended a rally of Remain supporters in central London. Ms Soubry has confirmed that she had not drunk any alcohol before speaking at the event.

Another reason why I am doubtful about Nadine Dorries is because she did not question the Government’s coronavirus restrictions when she was at Health and Social Care. Does she really believe everything she hears? Here she responds to Conservative Woman‘s co-founder Kathy Gyngell. Dorries and her mother had the virus at the same time, and her mother recovered first. Even so, not questioning lockdown earns her a black mark from me:

At least she supported Brexit.

Michael Gove moves to Housing, no longer Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Michael Gove, who is in the process of a divorce and was a recent party boy in an Aberdeen nightclub, is no longer the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Stephen Barclay, formerly Chief Secretary to the Treasury, replaces him in that post. Simon Clarke replaces Barclay in the Treasury role.

Michael Gove replaces Robert Jenrick at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and is in charge of Boris’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A first attempt at a new acronym for the department has produced DULL:

Guido reports on the problems with acronyms for government departments in general:

The Sun’s Harry Cole reports the initial proposal for a new “Department for the Union and Levelling Up” is no longer a flyer after realisations its acronym, ‘DULU’, sounds too much like “Dull”. It’s a shame a change was needed, given it was pointed out yesterday that Michael Gove the first MHCLG Secretary with all the letters of the department in his name

Guido will leave it up to cleverer minds to work out an acronym that includes all the letters of Gove’s new remit (MHCLG + Union + Levelling Up + Elections) though it’s not the worst reshuffle acronym problem encountered by a PM. As Alan Johnson recounts, in 2005 Tony Blair came up with a plan to rename the department for Trade and Industry as the “Department of Productivity, Energy, Industry and Science”. Thankfully Johnson was used to it by that point however – he’d already been Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, and headed up the Sexual Health Advisory Group…

Although this looks like a demotion for Gove, it involves a hefty budget with pan-govermental reach, something that should definitely appeal to him:

New Education Secretary

Nadhim Zahawi, formerly in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, is the new Education Secretary, replacing Gavin Williamson, who likely got the sack because of the school exams fiasco during the coronavirus crisis.

Zahawi has achieved the British dream, having arrived in the UK as a child refugee who could not speak English:

Other appointments

Guido Fawkes has full reshuffle information for September 15 and 16.

Some MPs have transferred to other departments:

Others will be returning to the backbenches:

Jesse Norman tweeted that he was happy to return to the backbenches:

The new role for Nigel Adams is said to be a ‘fixer’ appointment in order to get things done:

More information and analysis can be found at The Guardian, The Telegraph, GB News , The Spectator and The Times (here, here and here).

House of Lords

Reshuffles can affect the House of Lords, too.

Fortunately, two of the stars there are still in place.

Baroness Evans

Baroness Evans, composed and competent, will remain as Leader of the House of Lords.

Lord Frost

Lord Frost will remain Cabinet Office Minister for Europe, in charge of EU negotiations and changes to relevant legislation:

On September 16, Guido wrote about Frost’s plans to rid the UK of EU laws (emphases in the original):

Lord Frost has announced the government’s plans to finally capitalise on the freedoms of Brexit and remove the “special status” of all individual EU laws still on the UK’s statute books. There are also plans to invest heavily artificial intelligence, transport, and farming over the Parliament. Now if we just pair deregulation with lower taxes we may actually get somewhere…

Speaking on the reforms this afternoon, Lord Frost said:

“From rules on data storage to the ability of businesses to develop new green technologies, overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest.

“We now have the opportunity to do things differently and ensure that Brexit freedoms are used to help businesses and citizens get on and succeed.”

Lord Frost will begin with a review of so-called “retained EU law” – the huge amount of EU legislation still on the UK’s statute books; removing its special status so it’s no longer a distinct category of UK domestic law, and ensuring all courts have the full ability to depart from EU case law. He describes it as finalising the process of “restoring this sovereign Parliament”. There’s a reason he’s popular with the Tory membership…

Guido’s post has more detail, much of which involves digitalising everything from share (stock) certificates and driving licences.

Hmm. I hope that when his proposals reach MPs that they are not taken too far. First, not everyone is online. Secondly, think of the hacking opportunities this could provide. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, digitalisation can lead quickly to establishing a Chinese-style social credit score.

One thing I did like was this:

Permitting the voluntary printing of the Crown Stamp on pint glasses and reviewing the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislating in due course, none of which were possible within the EU.

Robert Peston’s misguided predictions

Sometimes, it is better to wait for the final outcome rather than tweet silly predictions:

On September 16, Guido noted witheringly of ITV’s Robert Peston:

While yesterday may not have been great for Dominic Raab, at least he can take solace in the fact he had a better reshuffle than Robert Peston. ITV’s senile senior political reporter spent all day tweeting every thought process, speculation and briefing with the acumen and insight of a first-year politics student.

Guido’s article lists Peston’s tweets. Perhaps ITV should buy him a new crystal ball.

Conclusion

I still think that most Conservative MPs are half-hearted. It’s a shame that Boris did not promote any of the 2019 intake, especially the feisty ones from the North of England.

Fortunately, last week’s horrible poll results have been reversed. Participants were polled during the reshuffle days of September 15 and 16:

Onwards and upwards to Boris’s promised ‘sunlit uplands’, I hope.

We continue to find out more about what went on behind the scenes in Afghanistan.

Biden-Ghani telephone call transcript

Somehow, Reuters received recordings and transcripts of two telephone calls between Washington and Ashraf Ghani, the then-president of Afghanistan.

The fuller of the two transcripts comes from the July 23 call between Joe Biden and Ghani. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Biden told Ghani that the ‘perception’ in Washington and the Pentagon is that Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban is not going well:

And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.

Biden suggested that Ghani implement a new strategy focused on major population centres. He also said that the Afghan army far outnumbered the Taliban:

You clearly have the best military, you have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well, we will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is and what we are doing. And all the way through the end of August, and who knows what after that.

We are also going to continue to make sure your air force is capable of continuing to fly and provide air support. In addition to that we are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows because it is clearly in the interest of the people of Afghanistan, that you succeed and you lead. And though I know this is presumptuous of me on one hand to say such things so directly to you, I have known you for a long while, I find you a brilliant and honorable man.

Ghani explained the situation at the time, which involved terrorists from Pakistan, insufficient pay for the Afghan army and the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with his government:

Mr. President, we are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this, so that dimension needs to be taken account of.

Second, what is crucial is, close air support, and if I could make a request, you have been very generous, if your assistance, particularly to our air force be front loaded, because what we need at this moment, there was a very heavily reliance on air power, and we have prioritized that if it could be at all front-loaded, we will greatly appreciate it.

And third, regarding procedure for the rest of the assistance, for instance, military pay is not increased for over a decade. We need to make some gestures to rally everybody together so if you could assign the national security advisor or the Pentagon, anyone you wish to work with us on the details, so our expectations particularly regarding your close air support. There are agreements with the Taliban that we [or “you” this is unclear] are not previously aware of, and because of your air force was extremely cautious in attacking them.

And the last point, I just spoke again to Dr. Abdullah earlier, he went to negotiate with the Taliban, the Taliban showed no inclination. We can get to peace only if we rebalance the military situation. And I can assure you…

Biden appeared to be talking at the same time, as his reply is recorded as ‘crosstalk’.

Ghani continued, ending on an optimistic note about the strength of the resistance to the Taliban:

And I can assure you I have been to four of our key cities, I’m constantly traveling with the vice president and others, we will be able to rally. Your assurance of support goes a very long way to enable us, to really mobilize in earnest. The urban resistance, Mr. President is been extraordinary, there are cities that have taken a siege of 55 days and that have not surrendered. Again, I thank you and I’m always just a phone call away. This is what a friend tells a friend, so please don’t feel that you’re imposing on me.

Biden responded:

No, well, look, I, thank you. Look, close air support works only if there is a military strategy on the ground to support.

Was Biden indicating, consciously or otherwise, that he was going to pull US troops out within three weeks?

On August 31, Reuters issued further information about the phone call, allegedly the last conversation between the two men:

The men spoke for roughly 14 minutes on July 23. On August 15, Ghani fled the presidential palace, and the Taliban entered Kabul …

Reuters reviewed a transcript of the presidential phone call and has listened to the audio to authenticate the conversation. The materials were provided on condition of anonymity by a source who was not authorized to distribute it

I wonder about the first sentence below:

The American leader’s words indicated he didn’t anticipate the massive insurrection and collapse to come 23 days later. “We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows,” said Biden.

The White House Tuesday declined to comment on the call.

After the call, the White House released a statement that focused on Biden’s commitment to supporting Afghan security forces and the administration seeking funds for Afghanistan from Congress.

Well, the Biden administration would say anything, because:

By the time of the call, the United States was well into its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Biden had postponed from the May date set by his predecessor, Donald Trump. The U.S. military had closed its main Afghanistan air base, at Bagram, in early July.

As the two presidents spoke, Taliban insurgents controlled about half of Afghanistan’s district centers, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

By August 9, it became clear that the US was leaving matters in Afghan hands:

In a little over two weeks after Biden’s call with Ghani, the Taliban captured several provincial Afghan capitals and the United States said it was up to the Afghan security forces to defend the country. “These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on August 9.

That said, US intelligence indicated that Kabul would not fall into Taliban hands for at least 30 days, possibly 90:

On August 11, U.S. intelligence reports indicated Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90. Instead, the fall happened in less than a week.

I wonder if Britain received the same briefing (see below).

Pakistan took exception to Ghani’s allegations that they were fuelling the insurrection by the Taliban:

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington denies those allegations. “Clearly the myth of Taliban fighters crossing from Pakistan is unfortunately an excuse and an afterthought peddled by Mr. Ashraf Ghani to justify his failure to lead and govern,” an embassy spokesman told Reuters.

Ghani could not be reached for comment:

Reuters tried to reach Ghani’s staff for this story, in calls and texts, with no success. The last public statement from Ghani, who is believed to be in the United Arab Emirates, came on August 18. He said he fled Afghanistan to prevent bloodshed.

Military call with Ghani

Reuters’ August 31 article says that the second call with then-President Ghani also took place on July 23, after his conversation with Joe Biden:

In a follow-up call later that day that did not include the U.S. president, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, General Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command commander General Frank McKenzie spoke to Ghani. Reuters also obtained a transcript of that call.

In this call, too, an area of focus was the global perception of events on the ground in Afghanistan. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Ghani “the perception in the United States, in Europe and the media sort of thing is a narrative of Taliban momentum, and a narrative of Taliban victory. And we need to collectively demonstrate and try to turn that perception, that narrative around.”

“I do not believe time is our friend here. We need to move quickly,” McKenzie added.

A spokesperson for McKenzie declined to comment. A spokesman for Milley did not respond by publication time.

US armoured vehicles move from Afghanistan to Iran

On September 1, The Gateway Pundit reported that US vehicles captured by the Taliban have been seen in Iran (emphasis in the original):

The Taliban was filmed this week moving captured US military vehicles to Iran.
Thanks to Joe Biden and the woke US Generals.

The article includes the following tweets.

The first comes from Asaad Hanna, a journalist:

Comments to Hanna’s tweet included another photo:

The second tweet in The Gateway Pundit‘s article is from Al Arabiya News:

The Gateway Pundit‘s article includes a long list of American military equipment that was left behind in Afghanistan.

Here is the summary:

As The Gateway Pundit reported earlier on Sunday — Joe Biden left 300 times more guns than those passed to the Mexican cartels in Obama’s Fast and Furious program.

A more complete list was created with public information and help from other intelligence sources.  The list does not include all the extra kinds of nonlethal equipment, everything from MRE’s, Medical Equipment, and even energy drinks.
 
The big story might be the pallets of cash the Taliban have been posting videos of pallets of weapons and stacks of $100 bills they have seized
 
If the Taliban has 208 military aircraft then according to the NationMaster list the Taliban now ranks #26 of all countries in the number of military aircraft.
 

The Biden administration would rather the public not know; the information has been scrubbed. Imagine if President Trump had done this:

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appears before Parliamentary committee

On Wednesday, September 1, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, comprised of a cross-party group of MPs.

I watched the proceedings and thought that he acquitted himself well.

One of the difficulties in anticipating Joe Biden’s sudden withdrawal of troops, he said, was weighing up America’s ‘intent’ versus their ‘capability’.

It also appears that the UK gave Raab the same aforementioned erroneous intelligence from the US about the Taliban seizing control of Kabul within 30 to 90 days:

Andrew Gimson wrote for Conservative Home about the session which lasted just under two hours. I found his article rather unfair, especially considering the US was displaying the same lack of intelligence.

However, it does provide a précis of two main points of the hearing:

Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge and Malling), the chair of the committee, sought to establish how much attention ministers had been paying not only to Afghanistan, but to neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, through which evacuation by land might or might not be permitted …

Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) reminded Raab that the Foreign Office’s travel advice for British nationals in Afghanistan only changed on 6th August.

Bryant also pressed Raab about why he went on holiday and did not return until after August 15, the day when Kabul fell to the Taliban. Another Labour MP asked the same question, as did an SNP MP who did not give Raab time to respond.

As for his lack of discussions with ambassadors in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, Raab said that his department’s procedure is to receive regular reports from them then collate them into one report that provides a detailed meta view of the situation on the ground.

When asked why he had not been to Pakistan lately, Raab replied that the pandemic made it nearly impossible.

Tugendhat asked Raab why the UK wasn’t using a safe passage to Uzbekistan as the Germans were. Tugendhat said that it was an ‘effective’ route. Raab countered, saying that it was ‘effective’ until Uzbekistan closed its border.

Raab took great pains to point out the positive aspects of the past fortnight, e.g. evacuating 17,000 people at short notice.

A few MPs, including Conservatives, asked him about the evacuation phone number in the Foreign Office that was inoperable and the emails that went unanswered. Their in-boxes were full of complaints about it. Raab said that most phone calls were answered in under a minute. He said that his staff were responding to a great number of emails.

However, this was one of several tweets from the middle of August indicating there was a problem. Sir Laurie Bristow was the UK ambassador to Afghanistan:

A Labour MP, Neil Coyle, asked why the portrait of the Queen remained in the Kabul embassy. Raab said he was unaware that it was still there. According to Coyle, the Taliban posed in front of it.

The best part was the final question from Claudia Webbe (Lab). She asked why the UK had been in Afghanistan for the past 40 (!) years:

Raab gave her a withering look and reminded her of the two decades prior to 2001, which included Soviet occupation.

Guido Fawkes said (emphasis in the original):

Claudia Webbe was back for yet another Foreign Affairs Select Committee appearance this afternoon, once again taking Dominic Raab to task with the hard-hitting questions no one else is brave enough to ask. Raab’s look of total bemusement at “What is your understanding of civil wars in Afghanistan” was one particular highlight. “Claudia, this is just nonsense” was another…

It seems as if Guido Fawkes’s readers have a better reading of Raab’s performance than the pundits. A selection follows. Unfortunately, Guido’s system does not have URLs to each comment.

Overall (emphases mine):

What was there to discuss? Pushing to ask what date he went on holiday and whether he considered resigning through to whether picture of the Queen would have been abandoned. There would have been far superior questions asked by people on any high street.

This thread had two notable comments. Here’s the first:

Raab was working on intelligence assessments, not his own thoughts on what would happen.

It is about optics. It looks bad if you want it to, but the facts are that the collapse was quicker than anticipated, and the UK still managed to airlift 17,000 people out in a very short time frame, for which they should be commended.

And here’s the second, about the phone call to his Afghan counterpart that was never made. The first sentence is tongue in cheek:

Raab would have made a phone call which would have resulted in the immediate surrender of the Taliban.

Though I prefer to be controversial and think that it would have made zero difference. Raab is a leaver and a Tory so the blame for the Afghan farce lies squarely with him and Trump, in the eyes of the loons.

The final comment is about Tom Tugendhat, which is probably true:

Tugendhat is an opportunistic @rsehole who is trying anything to advance his own position out of this crisis.

The back-stabber was even quoting from leaked FO documents at yesterday’s hearing to attack Raab.

Raab left the session promptly in order to travel to Qatar where he discussed various issues relating to Afghanistan:

Raab is spending the weekend in Pakistan for talks with his counterpart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There will be a discussion about the UK’s £30 million aid package; one-third will go to humanitarian organisations and the rest to countries taking in Afghan refugees.

Two other political journalists reviewed Raab’s performance. Madeline Grant, writing for The Telegraph, gave him a thumbs-down. However, The Times‘s Quentin Letts reminded us that select committee hearings are often about political point-scoring:

As Westminster cynics know, select committees are not really about policy. They are vehicles for the ambitions of the MPs who run them and they can be used to give legs to a juicy hoo-hah …

Raab’s own performance? The left shoulder twitched. That is always a sign he is under pressure. He kept fiddling with his nose, too. But he is one of the grown-ups in the cabinet and it was not immediately apparent he had been seriously damaged by his self-serving scrutineers.

At Conservative Home, James Frayne did not think the public will be bothered by the select committee hearing or by Raab’s perceived neglect of the Afghan situation:

While unnamed Government sources are seeking to apportion blame to particular politicians (Raab, most obviously), the public don’t and won’t think along these lines; within reason, they think of the Government as an entity, rather than as being devolved in any meaningful way.

This means there’s a limit to what “damage control” the Government can do by throwing particular politicians and officials under a bus. It will all land at the door of the PM where public opinion is concerned.

Will there be enough stories, cumulatively, to provoke a general backlash against this Government at last? Time will tell (I have no idea what’s coming out) but I doubt it. Hard as it is for many commentators to understand or believe, for most of its supporters, this Government has a lot of credit in the bank on questions of judgement and competence.

I fully agree. Dominic Raab could not have prevented the Taliban taking over Kabul. He’s not one of my favourite MPs, but he is doing a good job in very difficult circumstances.

————————————————————————————

The next few weeks should be interesting. What new revelations about Afghanistan will appear?

It was saddening and maddening to watch events unfold in Afghanistan this week.

General McKenzie and the Taliban

On August 29, the Washington Post reported that General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, refused an offer from the Taliban to stay out of Kabul and let the US control the city:

The US never should have handed back control of Bagram Air Base, the size of a small city, in July.

On the other hand:

Britain plans air strikes

The Afghanistan war is over, or maybe not:

This was The Independent‘s front page on Tuesday, August 31:

The Royal Air Force, following the United States, is planning fresh air strikes to defeat terror, according to The Telegraph (emphases mine unless otherwise stated):

Just three days after the British military presence in Afghanistan ended after 20 years of conflict, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, head of the Royal Air Force, told The Telegraph: “Ultimately, what this boils down to is that we’ve got to be able to play a global role in the global coalition to defeat Daesh [IS] – whether it’s strike or whether it’s moving troops or equipment into a particular country at scale and at speed.”

Earlier on Monday, August 30, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that Britain was willing to use ‘all means necessary’:

His comments come after Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said on Monday that Britain was willing to use “all means necessary” to combat IS amid warnings that the chaos in Afghanistan has increased the terror threat to the UK.

Mr Raab signed a joint statement issued by the US-led coalition that previously targeted IS in Syria and Iraq, vowing to “draw on all elements of national power – military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, law enforcement” to crush the terror group.

He said: “The UK stands united with our coalition partners in mourning those killed by Daesh’s horrific attack at Kabul airport and in our unwavering collective resolve to combat Daesh networks by all means available, wherever they operate.”

An examination of how this will be done has already started:

The Telegraph understands that government officials have examined logistics for air strikes raising questions about where RAF jets would be based, how they would refuel and how targets would be identified on the ground.

Sir Mike said he was in discussion with his international counterparts about long-term plans to base more RAF units overseas, including the Protector drone which is due to come into service in 2024.

Meanwhile, news emerged alleging that the Pentagon accused the UK’s evacuation efforts of being indirectly responsible for the death of 13 American soldiers in the terror bombing last Wednesday:

The projection of unity from the global coalition to defeat IS came as the Pentagon faced a backlash from Tory MPs over the leaked minutes of classified calls among American commanders that took place last week.

The conference call transcripts were said to cite the UK evacuation effort as the reason for keeping open Abbey Gate at Kabul airport, where 13 American personnel were later killed by a suicide bomb.

However, a UK Government source hit back at the claim, insisting: “I don’t think it was just the UK using the gate.” The Pentagon said the Politico story was based on “unlawful disclosure of classified information”.

A flurry of diplomatic activity took place on Monday, aimed at building international consensus on Afghanistan.

The story made the front page of The Times. Pictured are two little boys who lost their lives in last week’s bombing:

On Tuesday, Dominic Raab appeared on BBC Breakfast to defend the continuing British evacuation on the day of the bombing:

He said (emphasis in the original):

We coordinated very closely with the US, in particular around the ISIS-K threat which we anticipated, although tragically were not able to prevent, but it is certainly right to say we got our civilians out of the processing centre by Abbey Gate, but it is just not true to suggest that other than securing our civilians inside the airport that we were pushing to leave the gate open.

This story will run and run for political reasons. The BBC and other media outlets want Raab to jump or be pushed. After all, he did support Brexit and served as Boris’s deputy PM when the former was in the hospital last year with coronavirus.

The Taliban celebrate

On Monday, August 30, the Taliban celebrated the final departure of US troops:

Note the British and American law enforcement hats on the table:

On Sunday, August 29, a group of armed Taliban stood menacingly behind a television news presenter who was on air. The Daily Mail has the story, along with photos and a video. It’s like something out of a hostage movie:

In the 42-second clip, which has since been viewed more than 1 million times, the news anchor is surrounded by eight armed men who appear to be guarding him as he reads.

It has been reported they stormed the building on Sunday and demanded the presenter speak with them.

According to WIO News, the news anchor carried out a debate with the militants while on air.

The news outlet reports that the presenter spoke about the collapse of the Government in Afghanistan and urged the Afghan people not to be afraid.

During the show, called Pardaz, the anchor also reportedly told people to co-operate with the group.

The video was filmed as US armed forces said they had carried out a successful drone strike mission which prevented a second terrorist attack at Kabul airport …

Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad retweeted the video and wrote: ‘This is surreal. 

‘Taliban militants are posing behind this visibly petrified TV host with guns and making him to say that people of #Afghanistan shouldn’t be scared of the Islamic Emirate.

‘Taliban itself is synonymous with fear in the minds of millions. This is just another proof.’

Al Qaeda boss returns to Afghanistan

On Monday, August 30, the Daily Mail reported that an Al Qaeda supremo, Amin ul-Haq, has returned to Afghanistan.

He received a hero’s welcome:

A close aide of Osama bin Laden has returned to his home in Afghanistan after 20 years of US occupation just hours until American forces finish their evacuation from the war-torn country by President Joe Biden‘s deadline, a video purports to show.

Amin ul-Haq, a top Al Qaeda arms supplier, returned to his hometown in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province on Monday just over two weeks after the Taliban completed its lightening fast offensive to take over nearly all of the country.

Ul-Haq headed bin Laden’s security when he was occupying the Tora Bora cave complex. The two men escaped together when US forces attacked the complex, according to NBC.

The Al Qaeda leader was killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011.  

In the video, a car carrying ul-Haq is seen driving through a checkpoint amid a small crowd. 

At one point the car stops and ul-Haq rolls down the window. Apparent admirers crowd the vehicle’s passenger side, with men taking turns grasping and even kissing the top Al Qaeda associate’s hand. 

Two men take a few steps forward along with the slow-moving car in order to take a [photo] next to ul-Haq.

The car is then followed by a procession of vehicles carrying heavily-armed fighters, some flying the Taliban’s flag.

Asked about ul-Haq’s return to Afghanistan, the Pentagon told DailyMail.com that it does not comment on intelligence matters. 

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment.

His release is part of the withdrawal agreement, which began with President Trump:

A United Nations report from June estimated there were several dozen to 500 Al Qaeda-affiliated individuals, with most ‘core membership’ existing outside of Afghanistan. 

The report also notes that while communication between Al Qaeda and Taliban was infrequent at the time, one UN member state claimed there was ‘regular communication’ related to the Taliban’s peace talks with the Trump administration.

In the February 2020 Doha agreement negotiated by Trump, the Taliban promised it would ‘not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including Al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.’

In return the group secured the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners against the wishes of the Afghan government and Trump agreed to withdraw troops by May 1.

But based on the Monday video of ul-Haq’s return the militants seemed to encourage and even celebrate the Islamist figure’s homecoming. 

Ul-Haq had been a member of Hizb-i Islami Khalis, one of seven groups that fought against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan.

Future evacuation of refugees to the UK

Tuesday’s edition of the i paper summed up the situation in Afghanistan perfectly, especially the future of civilian evacuations:

That morning, Dominic Raab gave an interview to Nick Ferrari on LBC (radio).

Guido Fawkes has the story (emphases in the original):

On reports that 7,000 Brits were left behind, Raab told LBC’s Nick Ferrari he couldn’t “give a firm figure”, though he estimates it’s likely in the “low hundreds”. Asked about doubts over his own future, he said it was “just ridiculous“:

“Anyone taking time out during the evacuation…to go and brief, anonymously, newspapers with a totally inaccurate, skewed set of reporting I’m afraid lacks any credibility and is probably engaged in buck-passing themselves.”

I have wondered why British nationals — civilians — would fly into Afghanistan when it is clear the place is highly dangerous.

On August 30, The Times reported on a taxi driver and shopkeeper, both Britons, who lost their lives in the terror bombing last week.

The taxi driver, Sultan Rez, 48, had just received British citizenship and was on his way to rescue his family:

Rez had lived and worked in England as a taxi driver since 2002 and he was given permission by Britain to take his family out of Afghanistan.

He flew to Pakistan on August 23, a week after getting British citizenship. He drove into Afghanistan to collect his wife, Mangala, grandson Muhammad Raza aged 23 months, and Muhammad’s sister Kalsoom, aged five months, from Jalalabad. He took them to Kabul to spend three days awaiting their flight.

Seven of his relatives had permission to leave and the family was being processed close to a gate when the attacker struck.

“He sacrificed his life to bring them back here and paid the ultimate price,” Shakrullah, Rez’s son from north London, told The Sun on Sunday.

My father had gone out there to bring all the family back to the UK. He had been sent an email giving him and all the others special permission to board an evacuation plane to the UK.”

Some of the Rez family survived and were allowed to board their flight, but his father died and a little boy is missing. His toddler grandson is at the French Medical Institute for Mothers and Children, too injured to be airlifted. The little boy’s mother is now in London, hoping for a swift reunion. The Ministry of Defence is aware of the situation.

The shopkeeper, Musa Popal, ran a shop in north London. They went to Afghanistan to visit relatives in June:

Musa Popal, 60, moved to Britain in 1999 and ran the Madeena supermarket in Hendon, north London, for more than 20 years.

He and his wife Saleema, 60, flew to Kandahar in June to visit relatives including a son and daughter who live in Afghanistan. The London couple went to Kabul airport after the Taliban took over.

Popal’s remains were found in a hospital in the Afghan capital. Because of his injuries, his family in Britain were only shown a video of his feet and shoes. He has been buried in Afghanistan in a ceremony attended by hundreds of mourners.

His wife, who saw the suicide bombing from a distance, was uninjured but their grandson Hameed, 14, who was standing with Popal, remains missing.

“I’m really worried about my mum and other siblings being targeted by the Taliban,” the couple’s daughter Zohra said.

My mum, she has no documents now because my dad was holding everything when he died. She and the rest of my family are still in danger, and we still might lose them. And yet we can’t get through to the Foreign Office.

Their number is constantly engaged. We feel completely ignored. But we must get them to safety. I can’t live without them. We need the government’s help.”

Yet, in the video above, Dominic Raab said that the Foreign Office has been answering calls in less than a minute. Perhaps they need more phones and more people to answer them?

The harrowing journey to freedom

In a related article, Charlie Faulkner wrote an excellent report on refugee evacuations for The Times: ‘Salvation at last for passengers on final civilian flight out of Kabul’. Reading it made me feel as if I were there. It is as factual as it is moving.

His article includes an illustration showing the evacuation routes and all the countries involved in this humanitarian effort. In addition to the US and the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia and New Zealand also took part.

Reporting from Kabul, Charlie Faulkner tells of the queues of people waiting for coaches (buses) to take them to the airport, after the terror bombing prevented a previous effort:

The same people, more than 200 of them – families, young and old, educated, poor, wealthy, journalists, activists, artists – regrouped at the meeting point where the five coaches were waiting at 8.30pm to take them into the airport …

People waving paperwork still pleaded for a seat on the bus. “I have German citizenship,” said one man as he showed his documentation. “Please, I beg you, please let my family on the bus,” cried another lady. But this list had been put together and approved days ago; first by the German government, which had granted visas for everyone on the list, and then by the US authorities. It was impossible for further names to be added.

A mother with five young children was resisting being hurried on to a bus; she wasn’t going anywhere until each of her children had a hold of her hands or the straps on her handbag. There have been many stories of families being separated during the chaos at the airport over the past two weeks.

Because of the terror incident, passengers were no longer allowed to carry rucksacks. They had to put all their belongings into plastic bags.

Rerouting people was also a priority to ensure safe passage to the airport. An Australian film-maker, Jordan Bryon, was one of the organisers, working with a German organisation:

… five coaches were organised at a separate location on Thursday, where Jordan Bryon, an Australian film-maker, found himself responsible for overseeing the operation. A German organisation called Kabulluftbrücke, formed of journalists and activists, had made the evacuation possible.

Those in charge had to negotiate with the Taliban along the way. There was also a lot of shooting going on in Kabul.

It was also extremely hot, but the bus doors could not be opened for security reasons:

“The traffic was at a standstill, there was quite a lot of shooting going on. We just realised it was impossible,” said Bryon. “We were sweltering hot because we couldn’t open the doors – there were hundreds of people outside who would just try to force their way on to the coaches if we did. It was hectic, passengers were worried those outside would break the glass windows in their attempts to get on.”

As the traffic prevented Bryon’s group from reaching the airport that day, the coach drivers had to find a place to park for everyone to spend the night on the buses.

The night-time stop allowed stowaways to break into the luggage area of the coaches:

The luggage compartments beneath the coaches were checked. Five stowaways were discovered and removed, and off the convoy went again.

On the way back to the airport the next day, the Taliban forced the coaches to stop to demand that a family be allowed on board. What could one do but say yes:

“I had been so militant about the list but at this point all I could do was welcome them with a smile,” said Bryon.

Stowaways were still getting on board outside of the coaches:

The biggest challenge was keeping the coaches free of anyone not on the list. At one point about 25 people who had somehow sneaked onto the back of one of the vehicles had to be removed.

At another Taliban checkpoint, the coaches were allowed to proceed only if they took ‘a few people’ with Canadian visas. Again, Bryon had to agree to take extra passengers but was surprised to find that ‘a few’ turned out to be 40 people, most of whom didn’t have paperwork after all.

At another checkpoint, the Taliban commander threatened to stop the convoy of coaches, saying that Afghans were no longer allowed to leave the country. Bryon said:

He said everyone needed to stay to promote Sharia law. At which point people got scared and didn’t want to push on. Many went home or back to the hotels they had been staying in.

Around midnight on Saturday, August 28, the road to the airport was suddenly empty. By then, the passengers were tired, hungry and sitting in a stinky atmosphere. The Taliban did not help the situation:

The smell of stale urine wafted from the back of the coach. A Taliban fighter up ahead fired his gun into the air indiscriminately, rattling the windows. The passengers waited nervously to see if the promised Taliban escort – the last hope of reaching the entrance – would materialise.

The Taliban came through for the coaches and the passengers, but the drama did not end there.

Not everyone, even those whose names had been on the official list, were allowed their flight to freedom:

The atmosphere was tense. Quietly they filed off the bus as instructed and formed separate lines of men and women. A total of 189 names were called out from the list, one by one. In a very anticlimactic manner, the man calling the names simply said: “That’s it, that’s all the names.”

A group of about 20 people didn’t make it. Most had never been on the list in the first place, but six had. The reason they didn’t make the final call is unknown.

“My heart sank,” said Bryon. “But there was nothing we could do. The Taliban pushed us back towards the first checkpoint and that was it, it was over.”

Soon after, the plane carrying the five coachloads of passengers thundered down the runway and took to the sky — the final civilian flight, it is thought, out of Afghanistan.

At midnight the airport was officially handed over to the Taliban, and US and UK forces began their exit.

How utterly heartbreaking — and terrifying — for those left behind.

However, the Daily Mail says that evacuation flights are scheduled to continue on August 30:

Flights will continue on Monday – 17 jets are expected to take more than 3,000 people out of Kabul, the majority of whom are Afghan.

————————————————————–

May the good Lord guide the Western coalition out of this disastrous mess.

The short answer is that they think they can work with the Taliban.

Sure. Pull the other one.

American and British troops have left Afghanistan. The countries’ embassies there are now closed.

Yet, they pledged at the weekend that evacuations would continue. How?

British general criticises withdrawal

General Lord Dannatt, who once commanded the British army, criticised the withdrawal, according to the Times on Monday, August 30 (emphases mine):

General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, called for an inquiry into the handling of the withdrawal, accusing the government of being “asleep on watch” despite having had months to prepare. He told Times Radio: “We should have done better.”

He accused ministers of putting Afghanistan on the back burner only to find “when the Taliban took over the country in the precipitate fashion in which they did, it fell off the cooker straight on to the kitchen floor”.

The deaths of 457 British military personnel were not in vain, he said, because progress had been made in Afghanistan. He said, however, that “the precipitant decision by Joe Biden to end the operation of all international forces quickly meant that the gains we had made crumbled pretty quickly”.

Meanwhile, the same article said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab continues to come under fire for having been on holiday in Crete during the weekend of August 14 and 15. He appeared before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, September 1. I haven’t watched the hearing yet; it can be found here:

Senior government sources predicted that Raab would lose his job in the next reshuffle because of his handling of the crisis. They said the foreign secretary was a “control freak” who struggled to entrust work to officials despite controversy over his decision to stay on holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban.

However, Raab’s allies defended him:

insisting that it was “laughable” to blame him alone for the hurried retreat from Afghanistan.

They blamed the Ministry of Defence for failing to anticipate the speed with which Kabul would fall and hit out at the Home Office for failing to finalise details of the Afghan resettlement scheme. The absence of clear criteria was hampering Britain’s ability to negotiate with other countries over refugees, the sources suggested.

The UK government plan to rescue refugees

I do not see how the British plan to rescue more refugees will work in the cold light of day, especially with a terror threat clearly looming.

The Times article says that foreign aid will be part of the plan:

Britain’s key initial demand is that the Taliban allow thousands of refugees safe passage out of Afghanistan but the focus is likely to shift soon to preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, as it was in the late 1990s.

Aid will be used to encourage good behaviour. Ministers see Afghanistan as a first test of their decision to abolish the Department for International Development so that aid could be better aligned with foreign policy goals.

Officials believe that the Taliban see the looming humanitarian crisis as a threat to their legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and think that western aid will be needed to mitigate it.

Sir Laurie Bristow, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, thinks the embassy in Kabul can be reopened:

Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, was among those who returned home yesterday. On the runway at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire he promised to reopen an embassy as soon as possible and to “do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is nearly ready to make a deal with the Taliban. Some think that there could be a Taliban embassy in London in future. Good grief:

Warned that the risk of terrorism would increase, he promised to “use every lever we have — political, economic, diplomatic — to help the people of Afghanistan and to protect our own country from harm”.

He hinted yesterday that the Taliban could win diplomatic recognition if they kept terrorism in check and allowed western allies still in Afghanistan to leave. “If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition . . . they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming an incubator for global terror.”

His words raise the prospect of a Taliban embassy in London, which officials said would happen only as part of a joint approach with G7 allies after a new government was formed.

The UK government accepts that it will have to deal with a new Afghan government dominated by hardliners and has adopted a carrot-and-stick approach now that troops have left.

International plea for release of Afghans

On Sunday, August 29, in a joint statement, 90 countries asked the Taliban to commit to releasing more Afghan citizens:

Britain was among 90 governments that released a joint statement yesterday saying that they had a “clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that [Afghan allies] can travel to our respective countries”.

The Daily Mail has more on the statement:

The statement said: ‘We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.’

I cannot see that happening, even though I hope it does.

I am not alone:

many senior figures in the West fear the Taliban will fail to live up to the pledge amid concerns the number of Afghans left behind who may be eligible for resettling is actually far higher than initial Government estimates.

Too right. The Taliban will agree to anything then renege.

How evacuation schemes work

There were three evacuation programmes in place in Afghanistan during Britain’s Operation Pitting, which ended at the weekend. Approximately 15,000 people had been evacuated over the past fortnight.

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly MP explained to Sky News how the evacuation schemes worked:

Asked how many people were left behind, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: ‘Well, that’s an impossible number to put a figure on. We had three methods by which, or vehicles by which, people could leave Afghanistan.

‘Obviously British nationals, we have a much better idea of how many British nationals were in AfghanistanThe vast, vast bulk of British nationals have now left Afghanistan.

The Arap scheme, those Afghans, interpreters and others, who had worked directly for us and with us, have their scheme.

But also we extended to Afghans who were at risk of reprisals and there was no set number of people in that third group.’

He admitted that many people were not evacuated:

Mr Cleverly did not deny reports that hundreds of emails sent to the Foreign Office from people trying to get out of the country had been left unopened

He said: ‘Well, you have got to remember that when we extended our evacuation efforts to Afghan nationals we of course received a flood of requests and those were worked through and they will continue to be worked through.

‘But I know my own inbox had a huge number of emails came through, some duplicates, and of course we focused on the people who were at the airport who were being processed and who we felt that we could get out through Kabul airport whilst we still had security of Kabul airport.

‘We will of course continue to work through applications from people who have contacted us, people who are still trying to get out of Afghanistan.’  

Cleverly told Sky News that the UK government is sceptical of the Taliban but is committed to working with them:

‘Well, we have always said, I think the Prime Minister has said very recently, that we will judge the Taliban by their actions,’ he said …

Obviously we are sceptical about those commitments but we will continue working with them to an extent, based on their conduct, to try and facilitate that further evacuation and repatriation effort.’

The American approach

On Sunday, Joe Biden looked at his watch while the coffins of 13 American servicemen from last week’s bombing at Kabul’s airport arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware:

The Daily Mail reported:

President Joe Biden is under fire after appearing to look at his watch just seconds after a salute honoring the return of the 13 US servicemembers killed in Thursday’s ISIS-K suicide bombing in Kabul. 

The president made the unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday morning as the caskets of the 13 service members killed in the attack were brought back to the United States.

He stood in silence, his right hand to his chest, as a succession of flag draped transfer coffins were carried past him from a C-17 Globemaster plane.

But during the ceremony, Biden appears to jerk his left arm up and look down at his watch.

The 13 killed on Thursday were Navy corpsman Max Soviak, Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, and Marines Hunter Lopez, Rylee McCollum, David Lee Espinoza, Kareem Nikoui, Jared Schmitz, Daegan Page, Taylor Hoover, Humberto Sanchez, Johanny Rosario, Dylan Merola and Nicole Gee.

Biden’s stupidity rightly attracted a barrage of criticism from military veterans and Republican politicians.

After a US drone strike killed two ISIS-K men, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently co-ordinating international efforts for the days ahead. This began with a virtual meeting on Monday, August 30:

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host a virtual meeting to discuss a coordinated approach for the days ahead, as the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.

The meeting will also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the European Union and NATO.  

Biden stuck with his decision to have a full withdrawal by Tuesday, August 31.

US-led evacuation flights took more than 114,000 people out of Afghanistan. Troops and diplomats followed.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan:

pledged the US ‘will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident’ after Tuesday, as well as for ‘those Afghans who helped us’.

Air strikes will continue:

He said the US would continue strikes against IS and consider ‘other operations to go after these guys, to get them and to take them off the battlefield’

He added: ‘We will continue to bring the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan to make sure they do not represent a threat to the United States.’ 

There are no plans to reopen the embassy in Kabul, although there are plans for some diplomats to be present:

The administration’s plan ‘is not to have an ongoing embassy presence in Afghanistan’, Mr Sullivan said. 

‘But we will have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground there, be able to continue to process out these applicants, be able to facilitate the passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan.’ 

————————————————

I will be most interested to see how American and British plans work out. I cannot see the feasibility at the moment.

Following on from yesterday’s post about Britain’s presence in Afghanistan, today’s entry has more.

On Tuesday, August 17, Strategic Culture posted ‘Afghanistan: Whatever the Future Brings, One Thing Is for Sure, Britain and the U.S. Should Stay Out’.

While I disagree with the general premise, the article did have interesting historical information about the UK’s involvement in Iraq and Libya based on questionable intelligence by a security chief who promoted the Russian dossier nonsense during the 2016 US presidential election. Emphases mine below:

All the blood and treasure spent, yes that is a tragedy, but not because of how it is ending, but rather how the War on Terror was started.

That is, that the Iraq and Libya wars were both based off of cooked British intelligence, which resulted in the attempt by the British people to prosecute Tony Blair as a war criminal for his direct role in causing British and U.S. troops to enter an illegal war with Iraq. This prosecution was later blocked by the British High Court claiming that there is no crime of aggression in English law under which the former PM could be charged. It seems there is no law against being a war criminal in Britain.

And it was none other than MI6 chief (1999-2004) Sir Richard Dearlove who oversaw and stood by the fraudulent intelligence on Iraq stating they bought uranium from Niger to build a nuclear weapon, the very same Sir Richard Dearlove who promoted the Christopher Steele dossier as something “credible” to American intelligence.

In addition, the Libyan invasion of 2011 was found to be unlawfully instigated by Britain. In a report published by the British Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2016, it was concluded that it was “the UK and France in March 2011 which led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi”. The report concluded that the Libyan intervention was based on false pretence provided by British Intelligence and recklessly promoted by the British government. This is the real reason why David Cameron stepped down.

This is what caused the United States to enter both wars, due to, what has now been officially acknowledged as fraudulent or deliberately misleading evidence that was supplied by British intelligence.

Now onto Afghanistan. After the horrifying weekend of August 14 and 15, Britain’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, tried to enlist NATO allies’ help to fill the gap from Joe Biden’s withdrawal:

UK Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, has been actively trying to call on NATO allies to join a British-led military coalition to re-enter Afghanistan upon the U.S. departure! Wallace states in an interview with Daily Mail:

I did try talking to NATO nations, but they were not interested, nearly all of them…We tried a number of like-minded nations. Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t. It became apparent pretty quickly that without the U.S. as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off…All of us were saddened, from the prime minister (Boris Johnson) down, about all the blood and treasure that had been spent, that this was how it was ending.

This has left the UK in a tailspin, although, as of August 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain would remain in Afghanistan to complete evacuation efforts.

However, some of our brightest commentators are fumbling to come up with reasonable solutions to America’s withdrawal. Andrew Neil said that we should ask France to partner with us. Hmm:

Meanwhile, Biden acts as if everything is fine.

On August 20, he said that the US gave the Afghans ‘all the tools’ they need. This is the tally over the past 20 years:

Nigel Farage has disparaged Biden in recent days:

It’s not so much the withdrawal itself but how it is being done that is the worry. Troops should be the last to leave:

As if that is not bad enough, the Biden administration has supplied the Taliban with the names of people who helped the US effort. One could not make this up:

Johnny Mercer MP (Con), himself a veteran, posted the video:

But, then, according to his fellow Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat, the British did the same thing. How is this even possible?

The Times article says:

Foreign Office staff left documents with the contact details of Afghans working for them as well as the CVs of locals applying for jobs scattered on the ground at the British embassy compound in Kabul that has been seized by the Taliban.

The papers identifying seven Afghans were found by The Times on Tuesday as Taliban fighters patrolled the embassy. Phone calls to the numbers on the documents revealed that some Afghan employees and their families remained stranded on the wrong side of the airport perimeter wall days after their details were left in the dirt in the haste of the embassy’s evacuation on August 15.

The fate of Afghans who worked alongside western diplomats and troops, and who may face reprisals after being left behind, has become an emblem of the West’s retreat from Afghanistan.

Such was the British surprise at the speed of the capture of Kabul that the embassy’s evacuation protocols, necessitating the shredding and destruction of all data that could compromise local Afghan staff, their families or potential employees, appear to have broken down.

The article mentions Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was on holiday in Crete on August 14 and 15. He was supposed to make an important phone call, which he delegated to Lord Goldsmith. On the face of it, that wasn’t a bad idea, because Goldsmith is close to Carrie Johnson and could have had direct access to Boris through her. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the phone call was never made. I’m still not sure whether it was as crucial as the media make it out to be, because the media are anti-Boris anyway. More will emerge in the weeks to come, but this is what we know for now:

The discovery of the documents comes after Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, rejected a request to speak with his Afghan counterpart to discuss the evacuation of interpreters who worked for Britain two days before the fall of Kabul. It suggests that staff at the British embassy were careless with the lives of Afghan employees in the rush to save their own.

Labour now have a real issue with which to attack the Conservatives:

Labour said foreign secretary Dominic Raab has “serious questions to answer” and that the destruction of sensitive materials should have been a “top priority”. Lisa Nandy, his opposite number, called on the government to “urgently assess” the individuals who may have been identified by the breach and whether operations may have been compromised. The Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is now set to launch an inquiry.

I hope that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is committed to sorting this out:

Reacting to the revelations this morning, Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said the blunder was “not good enough” and would be investigated. Wallace said that the prime minister “will be asking some questions” about how the documents came to be left on the ground.

Wallace gave an interview to Sky News Friday morning. Contrary to what the British public understood yesterday from Boris about the evacuation efforts continuing, they will be coming to a close shortly, possibly by the time you read this:

Tom Tugendhat chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, so my expectations for the upcoming inquiry into this security breach are high:

Tugendhat spoke about the American withdrawal:

Sorry, but the withdrawal debacle is a military defeat.

I feel very sorry for British — and American — troops. They are still heroes, as Johnny Mercer, who served in Afghanistan, says:

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel visited a refugee centre:

She is preparing the British public. We will be taking in 20,000 or 25,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years. However, the British are also concerned about the number of illegal immigrants coming in from France across the English Channel:

Nigel Farage urges caution over the refugee programme:

The Daily Mail article says that Ben Wallace was satisfied that the man on the ‘no fly’ list was not a threat. However, the Mail states that some security checks have been taking place once the military plane is in the air:

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today insisted security checks at Kabul airport are working after it emerged a person banned from Britain under a ‘no-fly list’ was able to travel to the UK as part of the Afghanistan airlift. 

In a potential security breach, the individual was cleared to board an RAF plane before checks in mid-air revealed they were barred from coming to this country.

In a sign of the challenges facing British soldiers at the airport – who are already on high alert amid fears of terror attacks – it emerged last night that a further four people on the no-fly list tried to board mercy flights to the UK, but were stopped before the planes took off.

Mr Wallace defended the security checks, telling Sky News: ‘The watch list, or the no-fly list, pinged and the individual was identified so that is a plus side that it worked.

‘I wouldn’t be as alarmed as some of the media headlines are about this individual and I would also take some comfort from this process is working and flagging people.’

It came amid fears that more than 1,000 heroic Afghan translators, staff and their families could be left behind by the frantic evacuation operation.

Ministers have outlined plans to extract a further 6,000 UK nationals and eligible Afghans, but sources said there were 7,000 who Britain would ideally like to rescue.   

The Home Office said yesterday a ‘security assessment’ of the individual who arrived in the UK revealed they were no longer considered a threat by the security or law enforcement agencies. Sources said there would be no further action taken against the person, whose nationality is unclear.

But the development raised concerns over security relating to the airlift.

That was the state of play on August 23.

On August 26, another report emerged, this time from The Telegraph. The British public will not find this reassuring:

The Twitter thread received comments of astonishment and concern, such as these:

The men coming across the English Channel are also unlikely to have their papers, creating one terrible mess in the months and years to come.

In closing, today’s main story in the UK is that the British evacuation in Afghanistan will end this weekend:

Ben Wallace always maintained that some Afghans would be left behind. Where possible, more will be airlifted:

What a terrible ending after 20 years.

Parliament returns in early September. Both Houses will have a lot of questions for the Government.

It’s hard to know whether the British government was truly surprised by the fall of Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, 11 days ago.

On Thursday, August 19, Stuart Crawford, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, wrote an excellent analysis for The Scotsman: ‘Afghanistan fell to Taliban because West underestimated its enemy and lacked commitment’.

His article begins with a short précis of British involvement in the country (emphases mine, unless otherwise stated):

We British are no strangers to disasters in Afghanistan. In past centuries, Britain fought three wars there with the dual purposes of expanding its control from its Empire base in India and opposing Russian influence there, the latter part of the so-called “Great Game”.

None of them ended satisfactorily. At the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan was independent, the British withdrew, and the Afghans entered a period of special relationship with Soviet Russia.

Eventually that relationship soured too, leading to the Soviet invasion in 1979. The Russians left ten years later with their tails between their legs having suffered 15,000 dead. Not for nothing is Afghanistan known as the graveyard of foreign armies.

This brings us to the present day:

And now we are witnessing the end of yet another military adventure, this time the US-led Nato invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. What sets this newest withdrawal apart from the others, however, is the speed at which the Afghan government has collapsed.

Things looked good nearly 20 years ago, three months after US and UK forces invaded Afghanistan:

… the western powers entered Afghanistan in 2001 and drove the Taliban from power thereby denying al-Qaeda a safe base of operations there. It only took three months, with many Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives fleeing across the border into Pakistan.

However, Bush II switched priorities to Iraq whilst maintaining a presence in Afghanistan, as counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance recently explained to talkRADIO.

Stuart Crawford recounts the losses by the US and the UK during the fruitless adventure of trying to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style nation:

Over the next 20 years, the US and its allies poured billions of dollars into military operations to counter a resurgent Taliban and into reconstruction and civil aid projects. When the main fighting died down in 2014, the Americans had lost roughly 2,500 servicemen and women, the UK around 450, plus many other casualties from allied militaries. Estimated losses for the Afghan security forces are approximately 69,000.

Crawford outlines the reasons for the West’s failure:

First and foremost, the West was naïve in assuming that the Afghan people would welcome a western-style liberal democracy

Next, we made the unforgivable sin – in military circles – of underestimating the enemy. After the rapid successes against the Taliban in 2001, it was all too easy to dismiss them as “a bunch of blokes in open-toes sandals on motorbikes”, but they were and are good at what they do.

They are still there and we are leaving.

Also, what we probably didn’t understand or chose to ignore is the long-established Afghan practice of negotiated arrangements between opposing forces in conflict, whereby there are agreements not to attack or interfere with your enemy.

Finally, it was an overall tale of too few resources committed too late by the West. After the initial invasion in 2001, little attention was paid to nation building for the next five years. When focus was shifted to it, the horse had already bolted. We were always playing catch up from then on in.

It also has to be said that, despite the impressive numbers of troops deployed during the height of the military campaign, they were always too few for the task in hand. Some pretty poor tactical decisions were taken on the ground, not least by the British army in Helmand.

When British troops were allocated Helmand in 2006, their intended role was to provide safety and security for various reconstruction projects. But their arrival there provoked a furious reaction from a reconstituted Taliban. Our soldiers found themselves in very different circumstances to what they expected.

What is difficult for Westerners to understand is how complicated and fluid Afghan alliances are internally. They do not think in terms of good guys and bad guys. Crawford writes of:

a network of tribal and kinship ties which sometimes saw members of the same family supplying soldiers to both sides. This to some extent guaranteed some element of safety and amnesty for the vanquished.

Part of the reason, therefore, that the Afghan government forces have collapsed so quickly – after, it has to be said, fighting hard for many years with us in support – is that such arrangements have been in place for many years.

Corruption, lack of resources, and poor leadership added to the mix, and many Afghans must have wondered exactly what they were fighting for. The Taliban, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were fighting for and sought to achieve.

In Helmand province, the British were spread too thinly and ended up needing help from the Americans:

only 9,700 troops were expected to secure an area of over 58,500 square kilometres containing over 1,000 villages and settlements with a population of over 1.5 million inhabitants. It was a hopeless task, doomed to failure from them outset.

For reasons never properly explained, the decision was taken to spread British troops across 137 bases and checkpoints, dispersing forces and literally making them hostage to fortune as the Taliban were attracted to attack these small, isolated outposts as bees are to honey.

After much bravery and heroism against a more numerous foe, and despite the advantages of superior technology and air power, the British army had to be rescued by the Americans. This military defeat, added to the similar debacle in Basra in Iraq, did much to tarnish the British army’s hard-won reputation.

Even worse, the United States has been defeated:

The biggest takeaway from the whole Afghan affair, however, is that potential future adversaries now know how to defeat the USA.

Today, the airport in Kabul was attacked. The incident killed at least 60 people, including 12 American soldiers. Later in the afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a COBRA meeting; the British evacuation efforts will continue.

Earlier on, James Heappey (pictured below), Britain’s Minister for the Armed Forces, warned of an attack on the airport:

The news has not been well received by Guido Fawkes’s readers. The last two comments follow from Guido’s thread about the airport in Kabul, which ends with this (emphasis in the original):

Despite these stark warnings, crowds of people remain outside of Kabul airport waiting to be processed. Britain has now evacuated over 11,000 Afghans with a suspected 400 people left to process. The countdown continues despite the ordered evacuation…

I have edited the spelling and grammar in the following comments.

Here’s the first one:

UK caught well and truly with their pants down, and why, because they believed Biden would never be as stupid as he turned out to be. As the UK media, indeed the Western media, decried Trump at every opportunity, they praised Biden as the sensible, reliable face of American politics, now they scramble around like floundering fish trying to defend his mass genocidal decision to leave Afghanistan in the way he did. They would rather blame everyone else than accept they got it wrong. Well, the bloodshed that’s about to happen will be on their hands as much as it is on Sleepy Joe’s. Meanwhile Europe is bracing itself for another mass flooding of refugees. WE have to seriously consider is America an ally to NATO or not.

This is the second:

“Terrorist Attack Imminent……” What absolute tosh, why would the Taliban carry out an attack at Kabul Airport at all? They have what they want, western powers scuttling out of Afghanistan!.

What the politicos do not want is pictures showing 1000s of Afghans ‘stranded’ at the airport as the last flights leave so what better way to prevent this than by warning them to stay away form the airport area by suggesting “a terrorist attack is imminent….”

It is hard to disagree with either of those analyses.

On Wednesday, August 25, Professor Paul Cornish, who has visited Afghanistan twice during the past 20 years, wrote an article for Cityforum: ‘The Rout of Kabul’.

He has high praise for James Heappey, much less for successive British governments:

In the UK, with one or two notable exceptions such as James Heappey, the Minister for the Armed Forces, who manages to combine a sense of empathy with honest political realism and a soldier’s instincts for problem solving, we have had the embarrassing spectacle of high-level politicians, public officials and very senior military officers showing just how disconnected they are from this looming strategic reality. Keen to convince the media and the electorate that this is a temporary politico-military malfunction, from which ‘lessons will be learned’ before the normal service of strategic mastery is resumed, we are assured repeatedly that the Taliban surge was unexpected and unpredictable. Really? Ten years ago, following the second of two visits to Afghanistan, I made the following observation at a conference: ‘withdrawal – whenever it happens – should be seen not simply as the desperate ending of the intervention but as the most complex and dangerous part of the intervention. If this is mishandled or rushed, then we might be talking in five years’ time not just of the resurgence of some very unpleasant extremist and criminal groups, but of a regional conflagration.’ My sense of foreboding was premature by five years but if a visiting academic/think tank analyst could see things in this way then plenty of others, in more influential positions, will have come to a similar conclusion. And if the capture of Kabul was indeed so unexpected, why was there not only a ‘Plan A’ for the evacuation but also a ‘Plan B’? Was the capitulation unexpected, or were we preparing for it? As well as presenting a wholly confused, if not disingenuous analysis, the UK’s strategic leadership has also demonstrated an unbeatably inappropriate choice of actions and words: the Foreign Secretary remaining determinedly glued (some have alleged) to a sunbed in Crete while the crisis grew; or the UK Chief of Defence Staff insisting that the Taliban, an implacable enemy of Britain’s armed forces for many years, ‘has changed’ and that British troops are now ‘happy to collaborate’ with them.

He discusses the toxic mix of the Taliban, terror, Pakistan and China, concluding with this on the West’s failure in Afghanistan:

In this dismal context, uncomfortable questions must be asked about the West’s reputation as a global strategic actor, about its ‘strategic ambition’ and about the relevance of its vision for the world. Both the US and the UK have presented themselves as expert in the high strategic art of combining ‘hard power’ (i.e., the power of coercion and compulsion) with ‘soft power’ (i.e., the power of attraction and persuasion). Does the Rout of Kabul suggest that either of these is functioning as it should, or is as convincing as is claimed? In the UK, the March 2021 review of national security and defence offered a vision of a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’, finally achieving its destiny as a ‘force for good in the world’, a ‘soft power superpower’, and a country with globally deployable ‘hard power’. Broadly similar rhetoric was heard at the G7 and NATO summits in June 2021. After Kabul, are any of these promises, offers and assurances convincing? And who would rely upon them? Bells that ring as hollow as this should probably not be rung – at least not in public.

Returning to the state of play in Kabul, he says:

Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, August 2021: not a good look for the West, its values, its capability, its staying power, its leadership and their judgement. And it could get worse if the West’s strategic leadership insist that Kabul was a mere technical hitch, unwilling or unable to confront their mistakes and the gravity of what has taken place, and refusing to acknowledge that the West, and all that it stands for, is in deep trouble as a result.

I could not agree more.

There is currently much speculation in Britain and the United States as whose heads should roll over this debacle.

The British media want Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to resign because he did not return sooner from his holiday in Crete to ring an Afghan minister of state. That telephone call, which never took place, would not have made much difference to the final outcome. Events unfolded quickly on the weekend of August 14 and 15.

Some Americans want Joe Biden to stand down in favour of Kamala Harris, despite her poor popularity ratings. However, that would not achieve anything much, either.

The damage is done. It will take decades to recover from this, not only politically but also socially.

More to follow tomorrow on Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Yesterday’s post looked at the beginning of today’s modern Conservative Party in the late 20th and early 21st century, including Boris Johnson’s diverse family history.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have added to their number of accomplished MPs, people who have really achieved something in their lives before they entered Parliament.

The list of MPs whose immediate ancestry includes parents from Asia and Africa continues below.

The Cameron years: May 2010 – June 2016

In the 2010 election, when David Cameron became Prime Minister, several more Conservative MPs of colour took their places in Parliament.

Most are still serving today, listed below.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham)

Rehman Chishti was born in Pakistan on October 4, 1978.

At the time, his father, Abdul Rehman Chishti, was Federal Adviser on religious affairs to the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, the region where the Chishtis lived. This was during the time when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Pakistan’s prime minister. In 1978, Chishti’s father left Pakistan for the UK, where he became an imam. Shortly afterwards, a military coup overthrew the Bhutto government. General Zia-uk-Haq led the coup and later executed Bhutto.

It was not until 1984 that Mrs Chishti was able to join her husband in Kent, taking with her their elder daughter and young Rehman. From that point, life resumed a sense of normality for the family. Rehman Chisti attended local schools, then read law at University of Wales Aberystwyth. He supplemented his income by working summer jobs in retail in Kent.

In 2001, he became a barrister, having been called to the Bar of England and Wales by Lincoln’s Inn in London. He prosecuted and defended cases in Magistrates’ and Crown courts.

During the years when Labour was in power, he worked as an advisor for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, after her tumultuous term as Pakistan’s prime minister had ended. Chishti held this position between 1999 and 2007.

In 2006, he decided to switch his affiliation from Labour to Conservative and served as advisor on diversity to Francis Maude, who led the Conservatives at that time.

He won his first election as MP for Gillingham and Rainham in 2010, having been lauded by both Labour and Conservative publications as being a rising star in Parliament.

Since then, he has held three notable appointments: Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Communities (2018), Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Pakistan (2017-2018) and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2019-2020).

Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald)

Another MP serving Kent is Helen Grant.

Helen Grant was born in Willesden (London) in 1961. Her mother is English and her father a Nigerian, an orthopaedic surgeon.

Helen’s parents split up when she was a young child. Her father later emigrated to the United States. Helen and her mother moved to Carlisle, in the north-West of England, where she was raised by her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. They lived on a council estate.

She excelled in sports at secondary school and decided to read law at university. She later opened her own law practice, Grants Solicitors, which specialises in family law.

She was a member of the Labour Party between 2004 and 2006, but quickly grew disillusioned:

It was almost looking in the biscuit barrel, not liking the look of the biscuits, and slamming the lid shut.[6]

In 2006, she joined the Conservative Party. That year, she helped the Conservatives devise a policy on family breakdown, co-authoring the Social Justice Policy Group Report ‘State of the Nation – Fractured Families’ published in December 2006, and the follow-up solutions report ‘Breakthrough Britain’ published in July 2007.[8]

Grant became the first mixed-race/black female MP, succeeding the formidable Anne Widdecombe, who stood down for the 2010 election.

Helen Grant married her husband Simon in 1991. They have two sons, one of whom served in the Royal Marines.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne)

Kwasi Kwarteng, who represents Spelthorne in Surrey, is familiar to anyone who has followed Brexit and the Government department BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).

Kwasi Kwarteng’s parents emigrated from Ghana in the 1960s when both of them were students. His mother became a barrister and his father an economist in the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Kwarteng was a brilliant student. As a boy, he attended Colet Court, the feeder school for St Paul’s School. Kwarteng went one better. He attended Eton.

At Eton, he was a King’s Scholar and received the school’s most prestigious award: the Newcastle Scholarship. He read classics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge, earning a First in both subjects.

During his time at Cambridge, he appeared on University Challenge during the first season when the BBC resurrected the show in 1994. I saw it. The episode that he was on aired in 1995 and raised eyebrows. Kwarteng pressed the buzzer to answer the question, then forgot the answer. Exasperated, he spontaneously uttered the ‘f-word’. The production team was unable to censor it in time.

Guido Fawkes has the details:

This photo of a resulting newspaper article comes from Guido. Moderator Jeremy Paxman is pictured:

After earning his degree at Cambridge, Kwarteng was awarded a Kennedy Scholarship from Harvard. After studying there, he returned to Cambridge to earn a PhD in economic history.

He then had a busy career, combining work with journalism. He was a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and worked at investment banks, among them JPMorgan Chase. He also wrote and co-authored books on history and business.

At the time he won his first election as MP for Spelthorne, a local paper described him as a:

black Boris.

Kwarteng was an ardent supporter of Brexit and Boris Johnson. He also thinks that Britain’s welfare state needs to be pared back.

Kwarteng has held a variety of positions in Government and is the first black MP — and the first Conservative MP — to be appointed as a Secretary of State.

He is also a member of the Privy Council.

Priti Patel (Witham)

Priti Patel has been Home Secretary since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019.

She held various Government posts prior to that appointment.

Priti Patel was born in London in 1972. Her paternal grandparents were from Gujurat, India, then emigrated to Uganda. They owned a shop in Kampala.

In the 1960s, the Patels’ son and his wife — Priti’s parents — emigrated to England, settling in Hertfordshire, where they built up a successful chain of newsagents. The family are Hindu.

Unlike a few of the other MPs profiled above, Priti never flirted with the Labour Party. She was a firm fan of Margaret Thatcher, who, in her words:

had a unique ability to understand what made people tick, households tick and businesses tick. Managing the economy, balancing the books and making decisions—not purchasing things the country couldn’t afford”.[8]

Patel was always interested in politics. After completing her degree in economics at Keele University in Staffordshire, she studied British government and politics at the University of Essex.

She began her career working in the Conservative Central Office. As she was interested in seeing the UK leave the EU, she left for two years to head the office of the Referendum Party, headed by the late tycoon Sir James Goldsmith. That was between 1995 and 1997. Goldsmith’s party did not win many votes. We still have the campaign video tape, which Goldsmith’s campaigners sent to certain constituencies he had hoped to carry. Goldsmith died two months after the election.

Patel returned to the Conservatives, working for party leader William Hague in his press office.

In 2006, she became the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the staunchly Conservative constituency of Witham in Essex. By 2010, she was well known and won election handily.

She became part of the ‘class of 2010’, also known as ‘the new Right’. She and her fellow ‘classmates’ Kwasi Kwarteng, Liz Truss, Dominic Raab and Chris Skidmore co-authored Britannia Unchained, which took strong exception to the welfare state. One of the book’s more controversial statements is:

once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world.

I don’t fully agree with that, but I do worry about the effect that lockdown and furlough are having on our collective psyche in that regard.

Priti Patel is married and has one child, a son.

Alok Sharma (Reading West)

In 2010, Alok Sharma won Reading West with a majority of 6,004 after Labour MP, Martin Salter retired.

Alok Sharma was born to a Hindu family in Agra, India, in 1967. Five years later, he and his parents settled in Reading, Berkshire, where Alok’s father became very involved in Conservative Party politics and helped to establish the Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India.

The Sharmas sent their son to local schools, including the well-respected Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning, Berkshire. Alok moved to the north-West for university, earning a BSc in Applied Physics with Electronics in 1988.

However, Alok’s interests extended beyond science. He later qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte, Haskins & Sells in Manchester. He went on to work as a corporate financial advisor for other firms, leading to posts not only on London but also in Stockholm and Frankfurt. He advised clients on cross-border mergers and acquisitions, listings and restructurings.[8]

Sharma has held several posts as Minister of State and Secretary of State.

He is currently the President for the climate change conference COP26, which the UK will host in 2021. Sharma is currently a full member of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Office.

Sharma married a Swedish lady, with whom he has two daughters.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon)

Nadhim Zahawi is best known for his current post as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment in the UK.

He is second-best known for co-founding the international polling company YouGov with Stephan Shakespeare. Zahawi served as YouGov’s CEO from 2005 to 2010.

Zahawi was born to Iraqi Kurdish parents in Bagdad in 1967. In 1976, when Saddam Hussein began his rule over Iraq, the Zahawis moved to London, where Nadhim attended independent day schools.

Nadhim earned a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of London.

However, immediately after university, Zahawi’s interests lay with the Kurds. He worked on their behalf from 1991 to 1994.

In 1994, he was elected as a local Conservative councillor for Putney in south-West London. He held that post until 2006.

In 2010, he gained the attention of the local Conservative association in Stratford-on-Avon and became their prospective parliamentary candidate. He has been re-elected three times since: 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Zadawi has held two Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State posts, the first for Children and Families and the second for Business and Industry.

Zadawi and his wife are keen horse riders. They co-own a riding school. Their children attend university in the United States.

Sajid Javid

Sajid Javid was also among the 2010 intake. I will cover his life story this week, as it is worth a separate post.

Conclusion

Had I not been watching BBC Parliament so often, I would not have read the life experiences of many of our MPs.

I had watched the maiden speeches of those who entered Parliament in 2019, however, I had missed those of the MPs who came before them.

One can imagine that Boris, given that his paternal great-grandfather was lynched in Turkey, would appreciate every element of life experience and intelligence that this intake of MPs brings to the House of Commons.

This is the final instalment of my long-running series, the Brexit Chronicles.

My previous post discussed the December 30 vote on the EU Future Relationship Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent in the early hours of the final day of Brexmas, December 31, 2020.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair in Britain, as we were in lockdown.

One week earlier, Boris said that he would not be dictating to Britons how they should celebrate our exit from the EU, which was a bit rich, because he had already put us into lockdown before Christmas:

What UK independence from the EU means for Boris

The UK negotiating team did some star turns with this agreement, which polished Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political reputation.

Boris’s ratings had taken an understandable hit during a year of coronavirus, which included a lot of flip-flopping on his part, however the trade agreement improved things considerably. Liz Truss, who has been negotiating our trade deals with more than 50 countries, deserves her place at the top:

According to an Opinium poll, an overwhelming majority of Britons — even Remainers — wanted MPs and the Lords to pass the deal:

Guido’s article noted:

Troublingly for the anti-deal SNP, the poll’s sub sample of Scottish voters shows that by 47% to 19%, Scots want their MPs to vote for the deal too…

The Norwegians said that the UK had negotiated a better deal with the EU than they had:

Guido Fawkes thinks that this could give Norway the impetus to renegotiate their terms with the EU. I hope so (emphases in the original):

Marit Arnstad, parliamentary leader of Norway’s Centre Party, argues that the UK deal is better than the Norwegian deal her country has as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). “The UK has now reached an agreement that gives them more freedom and more independence” she tells Klassekampen, Norway’s answer to the Guardian, “the British have a better agreement than the EEA. They get access to the internal market and the common trade that is desirable, but they do not have to be part of a dynamic regulatory development that places strong ties on the individual countries’ national policies. …The most difficult thing for Norway is that we are bound in areas that are national policy, and that it happens in more and more areas. The British have now taken back this authority, and it is extremely interesting”.

Arnstad is not the only politician complaining, the leader of the Norwegian Socialist Party’s EEA committee, Heming Olaussen, also believes that the British agreement with the EU is better than the EEA, “because the British escape the European Court of Justice. Then they are no longer subject to EU supremacy and must not accept any EU legislation in the future as we must. This agreement is qualitatively different and safeguards national sovereignty in a better way than the EEA does for us”.

Could we soon see Norway and the other EEA countries try to renegotiate their terms?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made sure that he got everything possible arranged by the end of the day, including Gibraltar. The first tweet has a statement from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab:

Remainers constantly brought up the future of the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. They can silence themselves now.

Chronicle Live reported:

Automotive giant Nissan has welcomed the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, which appears to have safeguarded the future of its Sunderland plant.

The plant has been at the centre of the Brexit debate over the last decade, with both Remain and Leave campaigners using it to back up their respective arguments.

A number of global Nissan executives have used visits to Sunderland to warn that its future was threatened by a no-deal Brexit, and two models either being made or due to be made at the plant have been cancelled since the 2016 referendum.

But the Christmas Eve agreement of a deal that appears to allow tariff-free access to EU markets for British-made goods has been welcomed by the company.

On Boxing Day, The Telegraph — Boris’s former employer — published an interview with him, excerpts of which follow (emphases mine):

“I think it has been a long intellectual odyssey for many people of this country,” he said, casting back to 1988, shortly before he, an up-and-coming journalist at The Telegraph, was dispatched to Brussels to report on the European Commission.

“The whole country has been divided about this issue, because we are European, but on the other hand we don’t necessarily want to feel that we’re committed to the ideology of the European Union.

“That’s been the problem and I think it is absolutely true that Margaret Thatcher … she did begin this period of questioning. Her Bruges speech was very, very important.”

Mr Johnson is referring to a speech that, to many Eurosceptics, formed the foundations of the bitter and protracted political struggle against ever closer union that ultimately set Britain on the path to Brexit.

At the height of her power and railing against Jacques Delors’ latest move towards deeper integration, in 1988 Baroness Thatcher urged the Commission to abandon aspirations of a “European super-state” which would infringe on the “different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country”.

Her warning went unheeded, however, and just four years later the UK signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and with it the creation of the European Union as it is constituted today.

And yet, even after she was toppled and replaced by John Major, an ardent Europhile, the seeds of discontent and the desire to reclaim British sovereignty had been sown in Bruges.

He explained that we will always be European, just not part of the huge project that seems to continually move the goalposts of membership obligations:

“I think this gives us a basis for a new friendship and partnership that should attract people who love Europe and want to have a great relationship with it, who want to feel close to it.

But it should also be something that is welcome to people who see the advantages of economic and political independence. I think the country as a whole has got itself into a new and more stable footing. It’s a better relationship and a healthier relationship.”

The tariff and quota-free deal covers £660bn worth of trade a year, which Mr Johnson said will still be “smooth” but with new customs procedures and paperwork which will mean things are “different and there will be things that businesses have to do”.

In particular, he is keen to stress that the UK will be free to diverge from EU standards.

This is particularly gratifying for Mr Johnson, who said that after being accused of “cakeism for so many years,” he has achieved what his critics said was impossible: “That you could do free trade with the EU without being drawn into their regulatory or legislative orbit.”

Boris enjoys his ‘cakeism’ references. He made one on Christmas Eve upon the announcement of the deal and he made yet another on January 1, which was Guido Fawkes’s Quote of the Day:

I hope I can be forgiven for reminding the world that many people used to insist that you couldn’t do both: you couldn’t have unfettered free trade with the EU, we were assured, without conforming to EU laws. You couldn’t have your cake and eat it, we were told. Maybe it would be unduly provocative to say that this is a cake-ist treaty; but it is certainly from the patisserie department.

The Spectator had an excellent article on the new treaty, ‘The small print of Boris’s Brexit deal makes for reassuring reading’. Brief excerpts follow. The article has much more:

The Brexit deal takes things back to where they were before Maastricht. The EU is limited now in any meddling to very specific areas indeed. It ends the oddity where because circa seven per cent of UK business trade with the EU, 100 per cent have their laws made by the EU (although that is a bit more blurred in supply chains)

There are parts of the deal that mean that, should Britain wish to diverge, then UK committees will have to talk to EU committees. Requiring the UK to ‘consult’ on implementation and change of the agreement etc. But how this is done in practice is left free and thus pretty non-enforceable and limited in scope. It is diplomacy now, not law

While there is a lot of hot air in the treaty, it does not go beyond that. Lord Frost and his team seem to have seen off the (no doubt many) attempts to get EU regulation in through the back door. The UK is leaving the European Union and the lunar orbit of its regulations. It depends on your politics whether you approve of concessions over fish and some aspects of trade. But the legal question – to take back control – has been accomplished.

In The Atlantic, Tom McTague, a balanced journalist, looked at Brexit from the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto policy of ‘levelling up’ all parts of the United Kingdom:

at root, Brexit was a rejection of the economic status quo, which too many had concluded was benefiting the country’s urban centers at the expense of its more rural regions. And not without evidence: Britain is the most unequal economy in Europe, combining a supercharged global hub as its capital with areas a three-hour drive away that are as poor as some of the least-developed parts of the continent.

Brexit was not solely a vote of the “left behind”—much of the wealthy and suburban elite also voted to leave. But Brexit was a rejection of the direction the country was taking, a desire to place perceived national interests above wider European ones that too many Britons did not believe were also theirs. Is this entirely unreasonable?

The Revd Giles Fraser, rector of the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington — and co-founder of UnHerd — wrote an excellent article on Boris, Brexit and old Christmas traditions involving seasonal games of chaos and fools. He also delves into the Bible. ‘Why chaos is good for Boris — and Brexit’ is worth reading in full.

You will want to see the photo he includes in his article, which begins as follows:

Back in early December, after a dinner between the British negotiating team and their EU counterparts, a photograph was released that, it was said, “sums everything up”. A characteristically dishevelled Boris Johnson was unflatteringly contrasted with the smartly dressed Michel Barnier. “Johnson’s loose tie, shapeless suit and messy hair alongside Frost’s errant collar stood out somewhat beside an immaculately turned out Ursula von der Leyen and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier” reported the Huffington Post, while reproducing a series of damning twitter observations …

Fraser points out that Brexit is charting a new course. The old rules no longer apply. Boris seems to be the king of chaos, perhaps a ‘fool’:

The problem with an orderly approach to things such as Brexit is that most problems, especially the large ones, are always going to be imperfectly and incompletely specified. In such a context, it is not always a straightforward matter to argue in a linear way from problem to solution. Indeed, when situations seem to require some sort of paradigm shift, the rules of the old order present a block on the emergence of the new. Things will always seem chaotic when change does not travel according to pre-established ideas of how one thing follows from another.

In his fascinating book Obliquity, the economist John Kay describes the shortcomings of turning decision making within a complex environment into some sort of algebra. Often, he argues, “complex outcomes are achieved without knowledge of an overall purpose”. The importance of rational consistency is exaggerated. Some values are incommensurable, not plottable on a single system of reference. In such situations, neatness is overrated, distorting even.

That, I take it, is partly why Boris Johnson remains ahead in the polls, even now. Yes his shambolic manner, strongly contrasted with Keir Starmer’s orderly, lawyerly disposition, speaks to a refusal of some imposed authority. It’s a kind of trick, perhaps, given that he is the authority. And Old Etonians are not typically chosen as “the lowly” who are lifted up as per the Magnificat.

But the importance of Johnson “the fool” exceeds the fact that he has become an unlikely poster-boy of some unspecified insurgency against the established European rules based system of governance. The fool understands something the rationally wise does not. “Man plans, God laughs” goes an old Jewish proverb. Much to the deep frustration of its proponents, order can never be finally imposed upon chaos. And those who are comfortable with this, celebrate it even, are often better able to negotiate the complexities of life. Being chaotic might just turn out to be Johnson’s unlikely super-power.

Boris certainly has had a good track record over the past 12 years. The coronavirus crisis is the only obstacle remaining:

What independence from the EU means for Britons

The BBC website has a short but practical guide to changes that came into effect on January 1.

In addition, UK drivers licences will be recognised in EU member countries as they were before:

With regard to students and foreign study, we will no longer be part of the EU-centric Erasmus study programme beginning in September 2021. The UK government is developing the worldwide Turing programme, named for Alan Turing:

Guido explains:

… Unlike the Erasmus programme, which was founded in 1987 “to promote a sense of European identity* and citizenship among its participants”, the new scheme will have a global outlook, targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers. It will be life changing for the student participants.

A year of Erasmus-funded reading of Sartre at the Sorbonne in Paris, or a year of Turing-funded study of Nano-engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras? It is a no-brainer to choose the exciting future that is beyond Little Europe.

*The EC in latter years funded a post-graduate exchange programme that offered opportunities outside Europe. Some 95% of the budget still focuses on Europe.

Women will be pleased that the EU tax — VAT — on sanitary products is no more.

How we celebrated, despite lockdown

On New Year’s Eve, I was cheered to see an article by The Guardian‘s economics editor Larry Elliott, ‘The left must stop mourning Brexit — and start seeing its huge potential’. YES! Every Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MP should read it.

He, too — like the aforementioned Tom McTague of The Atlantic — sees Brexit as an upending of the status quo. He tells his readers on the Left that they should be happy about this (emphases mine):

Many in the UK, especially on the left, are in despair that this moment has arrived. For them, this can never be the journey to somewhere better: instead it is the equivalent of the last helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.

It marked the rejection of a status quo that was only delivering for the better off by those who demanded their voice was heard. Far from being a reactionary spasm, Brexit was democracy in action.

Now the UK has a choice. It can continue to mourn or it can take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit has provided. For a number of reasons, it makes sense to adopt the latter course.

For a start, it is clear that the UK has deep, structural economic problems despite – and in some cases because of – almost half a century of EU membership. Since 1973, the manufacturing base has shrivelled, the trade balance has been in permanent deficit, and the north-south divide has widened. Free movement of labour has helped entrench Britain’s reputation as a low-investment, low-productivity economy. Brexit means that those farmers who want their fruit harvested will now have to do things that the left ought to want: pay higher wages or invest in new machinery.

The part of the economy that has done best out of EU membership has been the bit that needed least help: the City of London. Each country in the EU has tended to specialise: the Germans do the high-quality manufactured goods; France does the food and drink; the UK does the money. Yet the mass exodus of banks and other financial institutions that has been predicted since June 2016 has not materialised, because London is a global as well as a European financial centre. The City will continue to thrive.

If there are problems with the UK economy, it is equally obvious there are big problems with the EU as well: slow growth, high levels of unemployment, a rapidly ageing population. The single currency – which Britain fortunately never joined – has failed to deliver the promised benefits. Instead of convergence between member states there has been divergence; instead of closing the gap in living standards with the US, the eurozone nations have fallen further behind.

I was especially pleased that he pointed out the coronavirus vaccine. We were the first in the world to approve one and get it rolled out:

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of nation states and the limitations of the EU. Britain’s economic response to the pandemic was speedy and coordinated: the Bank of England cut interest rates and boosted the money supply while the Treasury pumped billions into the NHS and the furlough scheme. It has taken months and months of wrangling for the eurozone to come up with the same sort of joined-up approach.

Earlier in the year, there was criticism of the government when it decided to opt out of the EU vaccine procurement programme, but this now looks to have been a smart move. Brussels has been slow to place orders for drugs that are effective, in part because it has bowed to internal political pressure to spread the budget around member states – and its regulator has been slower to give approval for treatments. Big does not always mean better.

Later on — at 11 p.m. GMT, midnight Continental time — millions of us in Britain were only too happy to toast each other, confined in our own homes, and say:

Free at last!

Here’s Nigel Farage:

Baroness Hoey — formerly Kate Hoey, Labour MP — worked tirelessly for Leave in 2016.

She had a message for her late mother …

… and for Guy Verhofstadt, who is shown below a few years ago in London with the Liberal Democrats campaigning against Brexit:

In the days that followed …

On New Year’s Day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave an optimistic message for 2021 — ‘the UK’s best years lie ahead’:

The Sun‘s political editor, Harry Cole, urged all of us to unite behind a new Britain:

Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, continues to pursue his quest for French citizenship, having researched his family tree.

Nigel Farage’s new campaign will be against dependence on China:

Our ports have been problem-free:

On that cheery note, after four and a half years, this completes my Brexit Chronicles! Onwards and upwards!

Friday, May 8, 2020, was a national holiday in the UK to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

It’s a bittersweet commemoration.

The Allies fought for our freedom.

In the UK, we are still in lockdown for coronavirus.

Not a day has gone by when I haven’t considered that all those freedoms fought for were taken from us on the evening of Monday, March 23, 2020. All it took was an announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

This is where we are:

We await Boris’s announcement on Sunday, May 10, re lockdown.

This tweet is from the co-editor of Conservative Woman:

I find it hard to believe that Boris can credibly extend lockdown (which isn’t saying he won’t) …

… particularly in light of Prof Neil Ferguson’s bogus numbers

… and resignation from SAGE for having his mistress over — twice:

Boris told us his was to be the People’s Government. I hope someone reminds him of that.

This was VE Day 2020, as Kathy Gyngell, the other co-editor of Conservative Woman, puts so aptly:

This letter to the editor comes from author Virginia Ironside, born a year before VE Day:

She nails it in the last paragraph.

The lockdown has shown there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. Ferguson’s lover said that lockdown was straining her marriage. Aww diddums. She lives in a £1.9m house. Imagine if she were living with an abusive husband on the 15th floor of a council block:

So, what hope have we?

I have never lost sight of this fact:

A German virologist agrees. (I’m ever thankful that peacetime brought Europe together.) I watched this interview, which is excellent:

Meanwhile, in Sweden:

And let’s not forget the economic impact, the worst since 1706:

These facts make watching the late afternoon daily coronavirus briefing all the more painful.

Dominic Raab, Boris’s First Secretary (deputy PM), was at the main lectern on Thursday, May 7:

One veteran of the Second World War, Captain Tom Moore, raised more than $28m for the NHS by walking around his garden 100 times. He uses a zimmerframe (walker), so this could not have been easy.

For his 100th birthday a few days ago, the Royal Air Force gave him his own personal flypast.

And now ITV made a documentary about his time in the war, which was shown on Friday:

God bless him. Many happy returns, Captain Tom!

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