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Tory Defence Committee chair could be ousted over “Taliban propaganda”

The Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has published a widely ridiculed video praising the Afghan government.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The Tory chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee could face a vote of no confidence in his leadership after releasing a video praising the transformation of Afghanistan since the Taliban regained power in 2021. One MP called it the spreading of “propaganda for the Taliban” and “breathtakingly naive”.

Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister, published the clip on Twitter yesterday (17 July), saying the UK should reopen the British embassy in Kabul and “re-engage” with the state. He claimed security in the country was “vastly improved”, corruption was reduced and the opium trade had ended. Ellwood, who has served in the army (though he did not fight in Afghanistan), visited the Taliban-controlled nation with the landmine clearance charity the Halo Trust.

He said: “This is a very different country indeed – it feels different now that the Taliban have returned to power.” He added that Afghans were “for the moment, accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability”, and that “here in Kabul the streets are relatively safe. The checkpoints have all gone, businesses are reopening.”

Ellwood has been widely criticised for the video and an accompanying column in the Telegraph due to what Amnesty International earlier this year termed the Taliban’s ongoing human rights abuses by the Taliban, including the oppression of women and girls.

Defence Committee sources say the video has gone down “like a lead balloon” and MPs are increasingly frustrated with interventions by Ellwood that do not represent committee colleagues’ views. Other members are contemplating whether to hold a vote of no confidence at its next meeting, but it is not yet clear whether they have the numbers to oust Ellwood as chairman of the cross-party group.

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Kevan Jones, a Labour MP and fellow member of the committee said: “His video is breathtakingly naive and great propaganda for the Taliban. It airbrushes out the ongoing cruelty of their regime. It does not represent my views and I doubt other members of the Defence Committee.”

Mark Francois, a Conservative member of the committee, said in the Commons today: “Last night, following a visit to Afghanistan, he [Ellwood] posted an utterly bizarre video, lauding the Taliban’s management of the country, something that was described by a fellow member of the Defence Committee to me barely an hour ago as a ‘wish you were here’ video in which he made no mention of the fact that the Taliban is still attempting to identify and kill Afghan citizens who’ve helped our armed forces, and also makes no specific mention of the fact that young girls in Afghanistan don’t even have the right to go to school under that government.”

Francois added that he and his fellow committee members felt Ellwood was not speaking “in our name”.

Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans, was also asked about Ellwood’s comments in the Commons today. He distanced the government from the views set out by his Tory colleague: “I am clear, as is the government, that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was a tragedy of epic human proportions. I fought the Taliban myself, the Taliban murdered my friends.

“It is clear that the Taliban as it currently stands represents a serious threat to human rights and the treatment of women and all those things that we fought for. That is the government’s position; that remains unchanged.”

Ellwood’s tweet of the video has attracted derision online, including from Ash Alexander-Cooper, a former specialist military unit colonel in the British armed forces. “If you’re making a list of the things that have transformed under the Taliban,” Alexander-Cooper tweeted, “don’t forget: persecution, torture and murder of former [government] employees; threats to family members of those who escaped; women and girls barred from education or work; increased female suicide.”

The New Statesman has contacted Ellwood for comment.

[See also: What Benjamin Netanyahu wants]

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