Britain on Monday said it would do its utmost to rescue more than 300 Afghans who helped its armed forces but are now languishing under the new Taliban regime.
Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to answer a question on how many British-Afghans remained after a hurried Western airlift was ended.
Thousands made it out from Kabul on packed Royal Air Force planes, but he said 311 people were left behind who are eligible for the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, such as interpreters.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that those people get the safe passage that they deserve,” Johnson said.
The airlift was “one of the most spectacular operations in our country’s post-war history”, he said, vowing an “equal effort” to house and educate Afghans newly arrived in Britain.
Johnson demanded the Taliban honour commitments to allow out those wishing to leave, and to respect women’s rights, if the militia wants to gain access to billions of dollars in Afghan funds frozen overseas.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda, the prime minister pressed the Taliban in particular to prevent Afghanistan becoming a haven for extremists to launch attacks abroad.
Johnson defended the UK and Western intervention in 2001. Critics, including some in his Conservative party, say the Taliban’s triumphant return to power shows the effort was in vain.
He said that later this month, he would press at the UN General Assembly in New York for consensus to hold the Islamists to account.
“We will judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words — and use every economic, political and diplomatic lever to protect our own countries from harm and to help the Afghan people,” the UK leader said.
The government faced fresh criticism for underestimating the Taliban, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab facing demands to quit after he failed initially to cancel a holiday to Greece as Afghanistan imploded last month.
Johnson failed to express backing for Raab, who is tipped to be moved from his job in a cabinet reshuffle reportedly coming this week.
Speaking in parliament later, the foreign secretary denied being complacent, and said Britain had extricated more than 17,000 people from Afghanistan since April.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Sunday to hold further crisis talks on Afghanistan, his office said, as he recalled parliament from its summer break.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had called a meeting of the COBR emergencies committee to discuss the situation, which follows the withdrawal of US-led forces, the second such meeting in three days.
Parliament on Sunday said it had approved Johnson’s request to call back MPs on Wednesday for urgent debate on what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade long war, should do next.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday he had talked to Pakistan counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, expressing his “deep concerns” and agreeing it was “critical” that the international community tell the Taliban that the violence must end and human rights be protected.
Taliban fighters were on the outskirts of Kabul on Sunday and on the brink of a complete military takeover of Afghanistan, leading to British politicians to call for a last-ditch intervention.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, urged Johnson to “think again” about stepping in.
“We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity to recognise where this country is going as a failed state,” he told Times Radio.
“Just because the Americans won’t, does not mean to say that we should be tied to the thinking, the political judgement — particularly when it is so wrong — of our closest security ally.
“We could prevent this, otherwise history will judge us very, very harshly in not stepping in,” he warned.
Ellwood said the government could deploy the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to provide air support.
He called the crisis “the biggest single policy disaster since Suez”.
– ‘Deeply shocking’ –
Johnson vowed on Friday that Britain will not “turn our backs” on Afghanistan, even as he confirmed the imminent withdrawal of most embassy staff in the face of a rapid Taliban onslaught.
However, he said that those calling for an intervention “have got to be realistic about the power of the UK or any power to impose a military solution — a combat solution — in Afghanistan”.
With the Islamists seizing control of more Afghan cities, Britain is deploying around 600 troops to help evacuate its roughly 3,000 nationals from the country, and Johnson said the “vast bulk” of remaining embassy staff in Kabul would return to the UK.
The Foreign Office said on Sunday that Britain had “temporarily suspended most operations” at its embassy in Kabul and was doing “all we can to enable remaining British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked for us and who are eligible for relocation, to leave Afghanistan”.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer backed the move to recall parliament, saying in a statement: “The situation in Afghanistan is deeply shocking and seems to be worsening by the hour.
“The government has been silent while Afghanistan collapses, which let’s be clear will have ramifications for us here in the UK.
“We need parliament recalled so the government can update MPs on how it plans to work with allies to avoid a humanitarian crisis and a return to the days of Afghanistan being a base for extremists.”
Most of the remaining British troops assigned to the NATO mission in Afghanistan left last month, according to Johnson.
As well as the fallen troops, the conflict has cost Britain around £40 billion ($55 billion, 46.7 billion euros).
In 2014, the British mission in Afghanistan, centred on the restive southern province of Helmand, shifted from a combat operation to one focused on supporting Afghan national forces, with the help of around 750 troops.
At the meeting, the two leaders agreed that in a bid to bring the various forms of terrorism to an end, then it is important that the judicial process runs without interference, no matter who was involved.
According to a communique by the President’s special media aide, the two leaders equally discussed how to increase trade between the two countries, develop solar and wind power, the leadership of the Commonwealth going forward, and other matters of mutual interest.
Nigeria’s power needs and efforts which are being made, as well as initiatives geared at achieving food security, were also brought to the table.
England and Scotland revised their COVID-19 travel rules on Wednesday, placing greater restrictions on travellers arriving from Spain’s Balearic Islands over fears of rising case numbers.
The Department of Transport in London said after a “sharp rise in cases”, the decision had been taken to move the Balearic Islands as well as the British Virgin Islands to England’s “amber” list — the middle-ranking for Covid-19 incidence.
The Scottish government, which sets its own transport policy, announced it would be making the same changes.
Under the “amber” restrictions, which will come into force after 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on July 19, travellers will have to isolate themselves at home when they arrive in the UK.
However, changes that come into effect on the same day mean those who have had both Covid vaccines as part of the UK’s innoculation campaign will not have to isolate after they return.
The Spanish islands, which include Ibiza, Menorca, Majorca and Formentera, were only moved to the UK’s green list at the end of June.
“Unfortunately when we put them on the green watch list from then we’ve seen the rates double, and also the rates of positivity of these tests double, meaning that we’re going to have to move quickly.” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
Revisions in restrictions were also announced for Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Croatia which have been moved to the “green” watch list, the lowest ranking for Covid cases, which means travellers do not have to isolate in the UK but still have to test for Covid before and after arrival.
Cuba, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone will be added to the “red” list from July 19, with the strictest travel measures imposed, meaning those who have departed from or transited through the countries will be refused entry.
British and Irish citizens or UK residents must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days when returning from red-list countries.
Laws banning football hooligans in England from attending matches will be extended to target those responsible for racially abusing players on social media, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.
The proposed change to football banning orders follows a deluge of abuse being directed at several black England players after the team’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final against Italy on Sunday.
“What we’re doing is today taking practical steps to ensure that the football banning order regime is changed, so that if you are guilty… of racist abuse online of footballers then you will not be going to the match,” he told MPs.
The banning orders, created in 1989 to stop known English hooligans causing trouble at and around domestic and overseas matches, are managed by the Football Banning Orders Authority.
Responding to an urgent question on the issue in parliament, junior interior minister Victoria Atkins — whose department is responsible for the unit — conceded using the orders to tackle the trolls, who are often overseas, would be “complex”.
“But we want very much to work with football clubs and others to ensure these orders have the powers that we all want them to have,” she added.
Greater Manchester Police in northwest England said a 37-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of an offence under the Malicious Communications Act after social media posts directed at England players.
The offence carries penalties of a maximum two-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.
The government is under growing pressure to act on the issue, with an online petition launched Monday demanding lifelong bans from games for those guilty of racist abuse — online or offline — attracting more than a million signatories.
However, Johnson and his ministers have faced withering criticism for failing to condemn promptly England fans who booed their own players taking the knee before matches early in the tournament.
Johnson met with representatives from the leading social media companies on Tuesday in what he said was part of a concerted approach to tackle the problem.
“Unless they get hate and racism off their platforms, they will face fines amounting to 10 percent of their global revenues, and we all know they have the technology to do it,” he said, referring to the government’s planned “online harms bill.”
Johnson noted he had held the initial discussions with Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.
But opposition politicians branded the moves as too little, too late while attacking Johnson’s own record on race in his former life as a newspaper columnist.
Johnson made a number of heavily criticised comments, including once describing Africans as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
He has also likened veiled Muslim woman to “letterboxes”. On Wednesday, Johnson said his past comments had been taken “out of context”.
“The legacy of this prime minister’s dog whistling has followed him into 10 Downing Street and it is now at the heart of this Tory government,” said the Scottish National Party’s leader in the UK parliament, Ian Blackford.
“It is shameful that it took until last night for the prime minister to meet with the main social media companies.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said he was appalled at racial abuse targeting England’s football stars after they lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy on a penalty shoot-out.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, the three players who missed England’s penalties on Sunday, were the victims of a stream of abuse on Twitter and Instagram.
“This England team deserves to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
“Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”
While some people identifying as England fans used racial slurs in blaming the trio for the defeat, other offensive messages were accompanied with “Forza italia” hashtags.
England’s players have made a strong stand against racism at the tournament, taking a knee before their games including Sunday’s final.
London’s police force tweeted that they were aware of “a number of offensive and racist social media comments” being directed towards the footballers.
“This abuse is totally unacceptable, it will not be tolerated and it will be investigated,” the police said.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat demanded that social media companies take action.
“Social media has algorithms that targets ads to you but won’t stop the racist abuse against some exemplary young men,” he tweeted.
“Those who write are pathetic and deserve to be identified and face the public consequences, those who publish it are profiting from hate.”
Despite the abuse, the overwhelming majority of messages were in support of the players, who have been praised throughout the tournament for helping bring together a nation hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
England forward Raheem Sterling also received a stream of racial abuse after social media users accused him of cheating to win a penalty in England’s semi-final win on Wednesday.
“We’re disgusted that some of our squad –- who have given everything for the shirt this summer –- have been subjected to discriminatory abuse online after tonight’s game,” the English FA tweeted.
“We stand with our players.”
A separate statement said: “The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.
“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team.”
It follows similar UK trade deals with Japan, and the European Union following London’s divorce with Brussels.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest agreement “marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by… shared history and common values”.
He added in a statement: “This is global Britain at its best — looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and help ensure every part of the country builds back better from the pandemic.”
Speaking later at a Downing Street press conference alongside Australian premier Scott Morrison, Johnson insisted that more trade agreements would follow.
“This is… a prelude to further deals,” Johnson told reporters.
Morrison praised the “foundational partnership” that would strengthen economic links and boost cooperation between the two nations.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the deal was “an important stepping stone” in efforts to join a massive free trade zone in the Indo-Pacific region — the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The deal eliminates tariffs on UK exports, with a final agreement in principle to be published in the coming days, according to the government.
The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth £13.9 billion (US$19.4 billion) last year and will grow under the deal, it added in a statement.
– Swimwear and whisky –
The two countries also plan to “intensify cooperation on security, climate change and science and tech”, the UK government said.
The deal eliminates tariffs on imported Australian goods such as wine, swimwear and confectionery goods, it said.
Going the other way, British products including cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia.
It comes after the two nations addressed issues surrounding the farming sector.
British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff-rate quotas and other safeguards.
“We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific,” the UK said.
– Low hanging fruit –
The deal with Australia — a former British colony on the other side of the world — is seen as low hanging fruit ahead of more difficult free trade talks with the United States and other major economic powers.
Britain earlier this month announced a free trade agreement with three European countries not in the EU — major fishing neighbour Norway as well as Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Yet the UK finds itself caught in a dispute with major EU member France over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Brussels is angered at London’s refusal to implement checks on goods heading into Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales.
The European Union is threatening retaliation if Britain unilaterally extends a grace period for trade in chilled meat, including sausages, next month.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, signed separately from the Brexit trade deal agreed in December, is supposed to see checks on goods heading into the province from mainland Britain.
The arrangement effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European customs union and single market that the UK left in January, to stop unchecked goods going to the bloc via neighbouring EU state Ireland.
The British Chambers of Commerce, representing thousands of UK firms, described the Australia deal as a “positive step” but warned it would not offset EU wrangles.
“Trade with Australia represents only around 1.2 percent of the UK’s total, so whilst a deal will have welcome benefits it will not offset the ongoing issues with trade to the European Union,” said BCC trade policy head William Bain.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds have set a wedding date for next year after delaying plans due to the pandemic, The Sun tabloid reported Monday.
Known for his colourful love life, Johnson will be only the second prime minister ever to marry while in office, following Robert Jenkinson in 1822.
The couple have sent “save the date” cards for July 30 next year, The Sun reported.
When elected in 2019, the 56-year-old became the first prime minister to live at Downing Street as part of an unmarried couple.
His partner Symonds, a 33-year-old former head of communications for the Conservative Party, gave birth to their son Wilfred in April last year.
This was just weeks after Johnson left intensive care as he recovered from a severe case of coronavirus.
The couple have lately been hit by a scandal over the costly redecoration of their Downing Street flat, which is being probed over allegations that contributions by a Tory party donor were not declared fully.
Johnson has been married twice before. He had four children with his previous wife, lawyer Marina Wheeler, before they split in 2018. The couple only finalised their divorce last November.
Johnson also reportedly has a daughter born as the result of an affair.
Britain on Friday announced it was lifting a coronavirus ban on people in England going on holiday to Portugal and Israel due to their low infection and high vaccination rates.
“From May 17 you will be able to travel to 12 green-list countries… which include Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps said.
However, popular destinations such as France, Spain and Greece are not on the list, which is reviewed every three weeks.
Turkey, Nepal and Maldives were added to the red list due to rising rates.
The minister also warned that those travelling to green list countries faced a “different” experience.
“Today marks the first step in our cautious return to international travel, with measures designed above all else to protect public health and ensure we don’t throw away the hard-fought gains we’ve all strived to earn this year,” said Shapps.
“This is a new way of doing things, and people should expect travel to be different this summer –- with longer checks at the borders, as part of tough measures to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country and putting our fantastic vaccine rollout at risk,” he added.
The green list covers Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, and Israel.
Holidaymakers to these countries will need to take a pre-departure test up to 72 hours before their return travel and a single test on or before day two of arrival into England, said the transport department.
The government in London sets transport and health policy for England only.
Shapps said he expected the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit.
“If the epidemiological situation improves worldwide, it is expected that there will be more opportunities for leisure travel with a greater number of destinations added,” his department said.
“While holidaymakers may notice longer than usual queues, it is vital we maintain our stringent border checks.”
It is currently illegal for anyone in Britain to travel abroad for holidays, and anyone arriving from a red-list country must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days upon arrival.
Mark Tanzer, head of travel industry body ABTA, said the gradual lifting of restrictions was “slower and more cautious” than expected and would delay the sector’s recovery.
“We understand that public health is the government’s priority, and it was always expected that the return to international travel would be gradual, but the government must use the next review to open up travel to more destinations, using the traffic light system to manage risk,” he said.
Two English football clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea, are due to play in the Champions League final in Istanbul on May 29.
Shapps said: “It does mean, I’m afraid… that fans should not travel to Turkey.
“The FA (Football Association) … are in discussions with UEFA already on this. We are very open to hosting the final round.”
Britain has been one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, but is currently easing restrictions following a sharp decline in cases and deaths.
But Public Health England announced Friday it had named a strain of the virus from India as a “Variant of Concern” after cases rose over the previous week to 520 from 202.
Most cases were clustered in Bolton, northwest England, and London, with almost half linked to foreign travel.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday expressed the nation’s condolences to Queen Elizabeth II on the death of her husband Prince Philip, acclaiming his “extraordinary life and work”.
Johnson said the Duke of Edinburgh “earned the affection of generations” at home, in the Commonwealth and across the world after serving in the Royal Navy and then over decades as Britain’s longest-serving royal consort.
“We give thanks, as a nation and a kingdom, for the extraordinary life and work of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” the prime minister said outside 10 Downing Street.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday received a first dose of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, at the London hospital where he fought for his life almost a year ago, assuring the public the jab is safe.
“I literally did not feel a thing. It was very good, very quick,” the 56-year-old leader told reporters at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, close to his Downing Street residence.
“Everybody, when you do get your notification to go for a jab, please go and get it,” Johnson said.
“It’s the best thing for you, the best thing for your family and for everybody else,” he added, stressing the renewed green light given by scientists in Europe for the AstraZeneca jab..
“The risk is Covid. This is a great thing to do,” Johnson said, hours after French Prime Minister Jean Castex received the AstraZeneca injection live on television.
Johnson spent a week at St Thomas’ Hospital, including three days in intensive care, after he was diagnosed with the coronavirus at the end of March last year.
He said after coming out that his personal battle with the coronavirus “could have gone either way”, and there was “no question” doctors saved his life.
AstraZeneca’s jab, developed with Oxford University, provides the bulk of Britain’s inoculation campaign and a large portion of its supply has been produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker.
The institute this week said it could not provide planned deliveries next month, denting Britain’s otherwise impressive campaign, which has delivered more than 26 million first doses.
The supply issues are another headache for AstraZeneca after its jab was suspended in several EU countries, pending a review by the European Medicines Agency following isolated cases of blood clots and brain haemorrhages.
The EMA restated its approval for the vaccine on Thursday, as did Britain’s own drugs regulator.