Senior British politicians have called on the government to repudiate Joe Biden’s comments on Afghanistan, saying the UK should have the courage to criticise the manner of the US withdrawal.
A defiant US president insisted on Monday night that he stood squarely behind his decision to pull forces out of Afghanistan rapidly. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That’s why we’re still there. We were clear-eyed about the risk.”
Biden said the chaotic scenes in Kabul of Afghans clinging to planes as they took off showed why withdrawal had been necessary. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” he said.
The remarks drew anger and regret from a number of senior Conservatives, including Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell.
“After [Biden’s] speech last night, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee,” he tweeted. “The US will remain a key ally where its vital interests are involved, but neither Democrats nor Republicans any longer believe the US should be the world’s policeman.
“The lesson for Europeans is clear. Whoever is president, the US is unlikely to offer the same support that it used to in parts of the world where its vital interests are not involved. Europeans are going to have to develop the capability to intervene without US support. That’s not going to be cheap. And the EU and Britain are going to have to work out how to cooperate on this because we face the same threats.”
‘I stand squarely behind my decision’: defiant Biden defends withdrawal from Afghanistan – video
A number of MPs said constituents, particularly former servicemen, had been in contact with “heart-rending” stories of friends and former colleagues in Afghanistan who were now in immediate danger, piling pressure on the government to act faster to help save them.
The former Treasury minister Huw Merriman, who chairs the transport select committee, called Biden a “total blithering idiot” for blaming Afghan forces. “Makes me wonder if he is the Siamese twin of Donald Trump. Tony Blair left us with this mess and we did not try hard enough to clear it up,” he tweeted.
Another former minister, Simon Clarke, said it was the end of an American era. “The more you reflect, the more you realise the speech [Biden] gave last night was grotesque. An utter repudiation of the America so many of us have admired so deeply all our lives – the champion of liberty and democracy and the guardian of what’s right in the world,” he said.
Backbenchers also joined the chorus of criticism. The Tory MP Mark Jenkinson said he had been a critic of military intervention. “But supporting Biden’s failure of statecraft will be to the detriment of all of us. To some, it’s quite literally a death sentence.”
His fellow Tory MP Angela Richardson said: “The world just got a little bit smaller after that statement. Very protectionist. Only concerned about terrorist threats on US soil and no real acknowledgment of the devastation left behind in Afghanistan.”
Labour called on the government to speak plainly to Washington about Biden’s comments. The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, said: “We were critical when the UK government blindly followed the United States during the Trump years. We won’t shy away from that same criticism now. Abandoning the Afghan people is wrong. The UK government should have the courage to say so.”
Wes Streeting, another shadow minister, also expressed regret at Biden’s comments and those of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who said France would not welcome significant numbers of Afghan refugees.
“Listening to the presidents of two of our closest allies in the United States and France, you would think that the nativists won the elections. Around the world, all the wrong people are cheering,” he said.
Raab: pace of Taliban takeover ‘caught everyone by surprise’ – video
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, made no direct criticism of Biden on Tuesday morning, saying only that the UK could not have stayed in Afghanistan unilaterally.
“The critique is perfectly reasonable that we didn’t see this coming, but unless someone’s going to explain how many extra UK troops we should put in, in the absence of the US commitment, I think the right thing for us to focus on is the evacuation effort, and how we now use every lever that we’ve got at our disposal with all due realism, to try and moderate the influence and the impact of the regime that comes next,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The armed forces minister, James Heappey, defended Biden. He tweeted: “[Biden] is absolutely right about 1 May deadline of President Trump’s Doha agreement with Taliban. That deal meant carrying on as we were, with those troop numbers, wasn’t an option. We either had to leave or fully re-engage to fight again. A decision had to be made this summer.”