The UK will waive border rules to allow Afghan asylum seekers to flee the Taliban to Britain without a passport, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Ben Wallace said the Government wanted to make it easier for interpreters and contractors who supported Western forces to seek asylum in the UK, as diplomatic staff and civilians rush to evacuate Kabul.
Ministers are under pressure from all sides to expand the Government’s asylum scheme, and the Home Office has denied reports that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is reluctant to relax the rules.
On Monday Mr Wallace said he and Ms Patel were working together to help Afghans escape.
“We are processing as fast as we can, and where there are rules that we need to change, we are changing those rules,” he told Sky News.
“Today I’ll be speaking to Priti Patel about how we can deal with Afghan passports. Right up until the day before yesterday, the Afghans wouldn’t let Afghans leave without their passport.
“If they’ve already been through our checks, we know who they are, we need to see if we can make sure that we adapt the rules to get those people out as soon as we can.
“We will cycle them out from Afghanistan to a Middle East country and then back to the United Kingdom, so we can keep the flow of aeroplanes, in and out.”
The Government is hoping to evacuate between 1,200 and 1,500 people per day in a major airlift operation from Kabul airport, which is still under the control of Western forces.
Officials have been in contact with the Taliban via an intermediary country in the Middle East, and have received assurances that embassy staff can be evacuated safely from Kabul since the fall of the city over the weekend.
British officials who remain in the city have relocated to the airport, and the evacuation operation should be complete by August 31.
Dramatic footage of a helicopter evacuating US diplomatic staff from Kabul has been compared to infamous photographs of overloaded aircraft leaving Saigon in 1975.
On Monday Mr Wallace acknowledged that many Afghans the Government would like to airlift to Britain will be left behind if they cannot travel to Kabul to meet UK forces.
The Defence Secretary appeared to hold back tears as he told LBC: “Some people won’t get back, and we will have to do our best in third countries to process those people.”
Asked why he felt so personally about people left in the country, he began: “Because I’m a soldier”, before adding: “Because it’s sad. And the West has done what it’s done.”
After Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, urged the UK’s allies to be cautious in recognising the Taliban as Afghanistan’s rulers, Mr Wallace said there would be a “lot more to come before those decisions are made”.
“I think the Taliban have to match their words with what they say. I think the time is not right yet. The proof of the pudding will be obviously in their actions rather than their rhetoric,” he said.
Separately on Monday, a former national security advisor and UK ambassador to Afghanistan warned there was a “direct threat” of terrorism to Britain because of the Taliban’s control of the country.
Lord Sedwill told the BBC: “We have to see whether the Taliban will honour their commitments not to allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists and indeed drug traffickers as well.
“I think that’s one of the two or three things we really must do now to in response to this, is work with China, Russia, Afghanistan’s neighbours and others who have – whatever our differences on other issues – a common interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not become another source of terrorism.”
The UN Security Council will meet today at 3pm to discuss the latest situation in the country.