A senior Conservative MP is demanding an immediate end to the “unseemly and unprofessional” row between the foreign and defence secretaries over Afghanistan, warning that it is further damaging the UK’s already battered reputation on the world stage.
Writing for the Observer Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons select committee on defence, says the crisis has exposed the weakness of the UK as a global player, and calls for a complete overhaul of the way foreign policy is handled in Whitehall.
Referring to weeks of public argument between the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and defence secretary, Ben Wallace, over whether the fall of Kabul to the Taliban should have been foreseen, and who in Whitehall was more to blame, Ellwood says such public spats between people in positions of power and responsibility are further harming the UK’s international standing.
“We’ve lost the passion and the art of leadership – and have caused further reputational damage in the unattractive blame game over Afghanistan that has played out so publicly. This unseemly, unprofessional squabbling must stop,” Ellwood writes.
Ellwood’s frustrations with Raab and Wallace were echoed by other senior Conservatives. Former cabinet minister David Davis said Boris Johnson must summon both ministers for a dressing down, at the very least. “He should call them in and tell them to shut up and then put No 10’s effort behind a cross-government approach which accepts its share of the blame, but that doesn’t try to load it off to one minister or another.”
Another former Tory cabinet minister said that only Johnson could have allowed two cabinet ministers of senior rank, and in such sensitive posts, to argue publicly while people died in Afghanistan. “It is unconscionable. Any other prime minister would have sacked them, but this is Boris Johnson.”
Merely dealing with them with a cabinet reshuffle would not be to rise to the scale of the challenge, Ellwood says. He calls for a complete rethink of how Whitehall deals with foreign policy at a time when the UK is no longer such a close ally of the US and when its relations with European neighbours are in serious disrepair.
“If we are serious about rekindling any status of global leadership, as we’ve done in the past, then there’s more to do than just knocking heads together or moving the deck chairs around,” Ellwood says.