Tory MPs try to oust Tobias Ellwood from defence role for praising Taliban

 Senior political correspondent

The Guardian

Thu 20 Jul 2023 06.19 EDT

Conservative MPs have launched an attempt to oust their colleague Tobias Ellwood as chair of the Commons defence select committee after he posted a video praising the Taliban for improving safety in Afghanistan.

Ellwood had sought to draw a line under the row, saying he was “sorry for my poor communication” after his actions outraged those in his own party and military veterans.

In a tweet and accompanying video, Ellwood described Afghanistan as a “country transformed” and talked up the group that seized power in August 2021, claiming “security has vastly improved, corruption is down and the opium trade has all but disappeared”.

Days later, four members of the defence select committee tabled a no-confidence motion in an effort to remove him from the important position.

The minutes of a meeting held on Wednesday showed that two Tories – Mark Francois and Richard Drax – and two Labour MPs – Derek Twigg and Kevan Jones – supported the motion.

A vote will not take place imminently, however, as the Commons is breaking up for the summer recess on Thursday afternoon.

After the backlash, Ellwood said: “The last couple of days have probably been the most miserable as a member of parliament,” adding: “I got it wrong.”

He called the row a Twitter “storm” and said he stood by criticisms in the video about Britain’s lack of engagement with Afghanistan’s new leadership since the chaotic exit of western countries’ armed forces from Kabul nearly two years ago.

But Ellwood used a TV interview to repeatedly apologise, and said the video “could have been much better done”.

“It’s important to put your hand up and acknowledge errors, however well intentioned,” the Bournemouth East MP and former army captain told TalkTV.

“I stand up, I speak my mind. I try and find solutions especially on the international stage, and I’m very, very sorry that my reflection of my visit could have been much better worded and have been taken out of context.”

While on a trip to India with the defence select committee, Ellwood deleted the video and issued a statement saying his reflections about Afghanistan under Taliban rule “could have been better worded” and he was sorry for “poor communication”.

Ellwood said the video, which critics said had a “wish you were here” feel and was set over uplifting music, was meant to focus on his push for Britain to reopen its embassy in Afghanistan.

After his visit there with the Halo trust, which helps clear landmines from former war zones, Ellwood said he had been repeatedly drawn to Afghanistan since losing his brother in the 2002 Bali terrorist bombing.

“During my visit last week, I witnessed something I did not expect to see – an eerie calm and a visible change in security, corruption and opium growth which I felt obliged to report,” he said in the statement.

“But I also saw a very vulnerable economy that will soon collapse without international intervention, turning this country into a failed state, with terrorist camps no doubt returning and triggering mass migration.”

Having been criticised for glossing over the erosion of women’s and girls’ rights under the Taliban, Ellwood said in the statement he had witnessed the “increasing restrictions” they faced.

“This suggests our current strategy, of shouting from afar, after abruptly abandoning the country in 2021, is not working. My simple call to action was to see our embassy reopen again and pursue a more direct strategy to help the 40 million people that we abandoned.”

Tory MPs try to oust Tobias Ellwood from defence role for praising Taliban