I’m writing this from Parliament, recalled this week to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Since the collapse of the Afghan Government, I have been working with the Foreign Office to ensure the safe evacuation of British nationals as well as the Afghans who worked so courageously alongside British troops. We owe those interpreters, cultural advisers, embassy staff and others a debt of gratitude and of honour. We must meet it.
Over and above the Home Office scheme, a separate route for those Afghans to resettle in the UK, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), has been set up and offers the chance to live in the UK for Afghan staff who worked for the British Government. Some 5,000 staff and their families will come to the UK via that scheme this year, and nearly 2,000 have arrived since 22 June. If we need to go further, we must.
Cheltenham blood has been spilt in the fields of Afghanistan, including by Riflemen brought up in our town and educated in our schools. This will be a difficult time for their families, and we must stand ready to support them in any way we can.
I hope they will take comfort from know that the heroism and sacrifice of their loved ones has unquestionably saved British lives here at home, as all parties in the House of Commons have acknowledged. By preventing Afghanistan being a launchpad for terrorist attacks on UK streets for over two decades, atrocities were averted and our country was protected.
The courage of Cheltenham’s servicemen and women will never be forgotten, and I will be remembering them specifically when I lay the wreath at Cheltenham’s war memorial at Remembrance Sunday this November.
Let this be a moment too, when we redouble our efforts to provide the mental health support to those British soldiers who have fought far from home and in some cases bear the scars of their service. It is no less than they deserve.
[Column published in the Gloucestershire Echo]