Tory MP Ellwood quits Commons post after Afghanistan row

Tobias Ellwood

By Nick Eardley, political correspondent

BBC News

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has quit as chair of a Commons committee, following criticism over his comments on Afghanistan.

The former defence minister was criticised in July for saying the country had been “transformed” under the Taliban’s rule.

He was facing a potential no-confidence vote from fellow MPs on the defence select committee.

But he has now stood down as chair and will no longer sit on the committee.

A source familiar with the situation said the Bournemouth East MP had resigned before he was “pushed”.

Mr Ellwood initially defended his comments, saying stability in the country was on a “different level” than during times of conflict.

But he later apologised, saying he had “got it wrong” with his remarks, which he had posted on social media during a trip to Helmand province.

In the social media clip, the MP claimed “war-weary” Afghanistan was now “accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability”.

He also called for the UK to re-engage with the Taliban government and for Kabul’s British embassy to reopen, and said “shouting from afar will not improve women’s rights”.

Opium production falling

He put out a tweet with the video saying that security was vastly improved, corruption reduced and the opium trade “ended” – although he qualified this in video by saying the trade had “all but disappeared”.

A BBC investigation earlier this year found a ban on opium cultivation introduced in April 2022 had resulted in a huge fall in poppy production in major opium-growing provinces, with one expert saying annual cultivation could be 80% down on last year.

In 2022, cultivation had been up 32% on 2021, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The MP’s comments sparked a backlash from human rights campaigners, women’s groups and MPs, including his some of Conservative colleagues on the cross-party defence committee.

Tory MPs Mark Francois and Richard Drax had joined Labour’s Kevan Jones and Derek Twigg in submitting a no-confidence motion in him.

In a resignation statement, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Ellwood said he believed he retained the support of the “majority” of the committee, but that without the backing of “all in the room” it would prove a distraction.

He added: “I believe I have a strong voice when it comes to defence and security. I stand up, speak my mind, try to see the bigger picture and offer solutions, especially on the international stage, as our world turns a dangerous corner.

“I don’t always get it right – so it’s right I put my hand up when I don’t. Poor communications, during the summer, in calling for greater international engagement in Afghanistan was understandably criticised at the time and reflected poorly on the committee.”

He said he was “proud of the hard-hitting inquiries” the committee had produced and described leading its scrutiny as a “huge privilege”.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky News: “I saw the video and I don’t think it reflected what I know about Afghanistan and the way women are treated in that country.”

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