York Press column – Afghanistan retreat and investment in York
August 26, 2021
Last week, I travelled to London for the emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan. This closes a saga dating back to that September morning in 2001 when Western democracies learned we faced a murderous threat that could theoretically strike anywhere, anytime.
The menace behind the need for anti-terror bollards outside York Minster is the fundamental reason why British forces were despatched to prevent that failed state continuing as a base for terrorism. The return to power of terror’s former protectors is rightly prompting an urgent British reappraisal of how we ensure our ongoing national security, and fulfil our responsibility as a conscientious member of the international community to address the human tragedy visited on the Afghan people.
In Parliament, I was particularly struck by the well-informed and moving contributions by those MPs who served there as members of our armed forces, especially the speech of my Conservative colleague Tom Tugendhat.
The American decision to withdraw in this way has rightly been criticised, and meant the current situation was inevitable. Without making a prolonged commitment to keep troops on the ground, they could have continued supporting Afghan government forces with air cover, which would have provided anti-Taliban operations with vital intelligence and firepower. The removal of this help understandably devastated Afghan morale, leading to collapse.
As a country, we may have to look at building capacity so we are less reliant on one ally in addressing similar complex global problems, and encourage our European neighbours to match our efforts by pulling their weight.
This will also be a moment of pain and reflection for all veterans of Afghanistan. We must remember their astonishing contribution, which prevented that country being a haven for planning terror attacks in the UK, and offered lifechanging opportunities to millions of Afghans, especially women, the experience of which the Taliban will struggle to blot out.
York will of course play its full part in the national effort to offer sanctuary to Afghans who have assisted our forces and officials. We must protect those who protected us, and also help those at demonstrable risk from the new regime, such as female judges and similar figures.
So far, I am encouraged by the government’s pledge to offer refuge to 20,000 affected Afghans, in addition to the ongoing relocation scheme for thousands who assisted our troops, under which we have already resettled 2000 former Afghan staff and their families since 22nd June. I will look to ensure our city’s makes the appropriate contribution to this work, which must be carefully focused on those in most need.
Happily, there is better news closer to home. Having pushed hard to improve our local transport network, I was very pleased to see the government allocate £500,000 of new funding earlier this month to upgrade roads across our city, making us one of 39 areas of the country to receive this money. This is meant to be used to modernise traffic signals and other equipment, assisting busy families and small enterprises by reducing vehicle queues, alongside improving provision for pedestrians and cyclists. Crucially, this will benefit York’s environment as well as its economy, with less congestion and engine idling meaning lower emissions.
Recent weeks also brought welcome further clarity on funding for York’s much-needed flood defences, with the Environment Secretary confirming total flood defence investment in York of over £34 million by 2027. I welcome the fact that £17 million will be delivered immediately during 2021-22 to finance current defence upgrades across the city as part of the York Flood Alleviation Scheme, created to ensure the terrible flooding of December 2015 cannot be repeated.
This cash injection will help better protect over 1,700 York homes against floodwater when the projects are completed, and will mean clear improvements in my York Outer constituency during 2021-22, with £1 million for defences in Bishopthorpe, £5.6 million for the Clifton Ings Barrier Bank and £200,000 for Westfield Beck. The high waters of this January and limited flooding of early 2020 were stern reminders of how essential this ongoing work is, and I will continue to work to ensure these commitments are delivered in full, and our community is protected.