Afghanistan news: Taliban’s Panjshir victory contested as Blair says invasion was ‘maybe naïve’

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The Taliban’s claim to be in total control of Afghanistan’s Panjshir province has been disputed by the National Resistance Front (NRF), which condemned the declaration as “false”.

A Taliban spokesman on Monday declared victory for the Islamist group, saying it meant “our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war”. However, resistance fighters swiftly said they were still present in “all strategic positions” and “continue to fight”.

Images on social media appeared to back up the Taliban’s version of events, though.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has conceded Western forces acted with some naivety during the invasion of Afghanistan two decades ago. But despite being unrealistic about how the country could be remade by foreign occupation, the former prime minister, who ordered British soldiers into the country in 2001, said he continued to believe in liberal intervention.

In a speech this morning, Mr Blair said the chaos that saw tens of thousands flee its returning theocratic rulers showed people identified with Western liberal values no matter where they lived.

Sign The Independent’s petition urging the UK to take in more refugees from Afghanistan here.

Read More

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are scattered around the world, where they face years of uncertainty

Taliban breaks up women’s rights protest in Kabul with ‘bloody violence and use of gunfire and tear gas’

Lib Dems call for Dominic Raab’s salary to go to Afghan refugees

Key points

  • Resistance fighters say Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir ‘false’...

  • ...and accuse militant group of killing their spokesperson during fighting

  • Facebook post behind minister’s veteran suicide claim ‘likely fake’

  • Tony Blair: Western leaders ‘naive’ in 2001 Afghan intervention

  • Afghan women university students ordered to cover face

  • New Afghan government to be ‘announced soon,’ says Taliban

07:12 , Sam Hancock

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of Afghanistan. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates.

Top Republican says Taliban holding Americans ‘hostage’ at Mazar-e-Sharif airport

05:32 , Shweta Sharma

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas has claimed that there are six airplanes at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport with American citizens and Afghan interpreters on board which the Taliban are “holding them hostage” right now.

A worker at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport has also confirmed that several planes are parked at the airport and Taliban is holding them leaving. The worker said Taliban wanted to check the passengers document.

Speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” McCaul accused the Taliban of making demands and said the planes have been at the airport for “last couple of days”.

“They’re going to demand more and more, whether it be cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan,” he said.

National Resistance Front spokesman Fahim Dashti killed

05:43 , Shweta Sharma

National Resistance Front of Afghanistan has said in a tweet that the militia group’s spokesman Fahim Dashty and General Abdul Wudod Zara were killed in the fighting.

Dashty was advicing group’s leader Ahmad Massoud at the time of his assassination, according to media reports.

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Panjshir valley ‘completely captured’: Taliban

05:49 , Shweta Sharma

Taliban has claimed that the Panjshir Valley is “completely” in control of the group after days of fierce fighting against the National Resistance Force of Afghanistan.

“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound.

Taliban spokesperson says group in complete control of Panjshir province in Afghanistan: report

06:06 , Shweta Sharma

The Taliban has taken complete control of Panjshir province in Afghanistan, according to the Islamist militant group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, Reuters reported on Monday.

The province was the last remaining stronghold against the Taliban in the country.

Read The Independent’s detailed report here:

Taliban has captured Panjshir province in Afghanistan, claims spokesperson

Taliban allegedly shoot dead pregnant Afghan police officer

06:15 , Sam Hancock

An Afghan police officer, named in local media as Banu Negar, has allegedly been shot dead by a Taliban militant in Firozkoh, the capital of central Ghor province.

The Taliban has denied the involvement in the killing and said they are investigating the matter.

The militants of the Islamist group allegedly beat her and shot her in front of her family members at her home on Saturday, three sources told the BBC.

Graphic images, shown by Ms Negar’s relatives, showed blood on a wall of a house and a body with the face disfigured.

According to the family, Ms Negar, who worked at the local prison, was eight months pregnant, reports the BBC.

Three gunmen are said to have arrived at the house on Saturday and searched it before tying members of the family up.

Negar’s family provided this image of her to Western media (BBC)
Negar’s family provided this image of her to Western media (BBC)

Flights with US citizens held up in Afghanistan as confusion reigns after withdrawal

06:22 , Shweta Sharma

A group of American citizens and were reportedly trapped in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Sunday without permission to take off from Taliban officials, as it remains unclear whether the militant group currently has the ability to facilitate international flights.

In a letter to members of Congress from the State Department obtained by CBS News, the agency confirmed that multiple charter flights were waiting to take off from Mazar-i-Sharif’s international airport but had yet to receive permission to do so from local Taliban authorities.

Read John Bowden’s detailed report here:

Flights with US citizens held up in Afghanistan as confusion reigns after withdrawal

NRF says Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir ‘false'

06:42 , Shweta Sharma

National Resistance force has denied Taliban’s claims of taking full control of Panjshir valley.

The NRF said in a tweet that their forces are still holding all strategic positions across the valley and the battle is going on continue.

“We assure the ppl of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban & their partners will continue until justice & freedom prevails,” it said.

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Earlier today, Taliban claimed that their forces have “completely captured” the Panjshir valley.

British veterans have ‘taken their own lives in last week’ over Afghanistan chaos, says minister

07:41 , Sam Hancock

Some British military veterans who took part in the Afghan war have reportedly taken their own lives over the ongoing fallout from the US’ decision to withdrawal troops from the nation, a junior defence minister has claimed.

Former veteran James Heappey, who now works for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), told Sky News that “a soldier who served on my last tour in Afghanistan [is one of those] who’ve taken their own lives in the last week or so because of, erm, the feelings over what’s happened in Afghanistan.”

He added: “That os hugely concerning and upsetting ... the veterans community is hurting.”

Mr Heappey also said he was hearing the Taliban was now in control of the whole of Afghanistan, but that the situation in Panjshir did not change the big picture.

It comes after the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) described the Taliban’s claim about taking the the final pocket of territory which has remained outside their rule as “false”.

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NRF spokesperson killed during Panjshir fighting - report

07:51 , Sam Hancock

A spokesperson of Afghanistan’s resistance movement was killed during fighting with the Taliban in Panjshir valley, according to various reports.

Fahim Dashti, part of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), and three other leaders of the anti-Taliban group were killed on Sunday during the clashes.

A page on Facebook affiliated with the resistance movement put out a statement saying: “With deep regret, we lost two dear brothers and colleagues and fighters today. Fahim Dashti, the head of the office of Amir Saheb Ahmad Masoud, and General Sahib Abdul Wadood Zhor, the nephew of the national hero of Afghanistan in the battle against the fascist group.”

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar has the full report:

Spokesperson of Afghanistan’s resistance front killed during Panjshir fighting

PM to face grilling over Afghanistan crisis upon return to Parliament

08:04 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson is expected to reiterate his pledge to use “every economic, political and diplomatic lever” to help those left behind in Afghanistan by the UK in a statement he will make to the House of Commons on Monday.

The address will mark Parliament’s return from its summer recess and is set to see the PM and foreign secretary grilled by highly-critical MPs.

Both Mr Johnson and Dominic Raab have been subject to criticism over the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and their response since the Taliban takeover.

Thousands of Afghans who worked with Britain, their families and other vulnerable citizens are feared to have been left behind when UK troops departed Kabul last month. And there have been warnings that the UK could face a heightened terror threat if extremism is allowed to flourish once again in Afghanistan.

Speaking in the week marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted the US and its allies to go to war in the nation, Mr Johnson is expected to update MPs on the new resettlement programme for Afghans to come to the UK in the coming years.

No 10 said he will also announce an additional £5m to help military charities offering support on mental health issues to veterans with the aim of ensuring “no veteran’s request for help will go unanswered”.

It will be the first time the PM has faced MPs in the chamber since 18 August, when they were recalled for a day for an emergency debate in the wake of the fall of Kabul.

It comes after the armed forces general Sir Nick Carter admitted on Sunday that “everybody got it wrong” about the pace of the Taliban’s march recapture of Afghanistan, but denied there was a failure in military intelligence.

Johnson visits Merville Barracks in Colchester last week to meet members of the 16th Air Assault Brigade involved in the UK operation in Afghanistan (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Johnson visits Merville Barracks in Colchester last week to meet members of the 16th Air Assault Brigade involved in the UK operation in Afghanistan (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Minister backtracks on claim about veteran taking own life due to Afghanistan fall

08:21 , Sam Hancock

Britain’s Armed Forces minister has now backtracked and said he may have been wrong to suggest that a military veteran he knew, who served in Afghanistan, took their own life following the fall of the country to the Taliban.

During a round of broadcast interviews, James Heappey told Sky News that he understood that at least one veteran had taken their life in recent days “because of, erm, the feelings over what’s happened in Afghanistan”.

(You can read, and watch, what Mr Heappey said in full in my earlier post.)

However, appearing later on BBC Breakfast, he said the report he was referring to may have been “inaccurate”.

“Since I mentioned that to your colleague Kay Burley on Sky only 20 minutes ago we have had a number of reports that the thing I was referring to was inaccurate,” he said.

“We are looking very, very carefully at whether it is true whether or not someone has taken their life in the last few days.”

Johnson to give Afghanistan statement later today

08:51 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post about what MPs might throw at Boris Johnson today, when Parliament returns from its summer recess, the official Commons schedule for Monday has been released.

The prime minister will deliver “an oral statement on Afghanistan” at around 3.30pm, the chamber has confirmed.

New Afghan government to be ‘announced soon,’ says Taliban

09:08 , Sam Hancock

A spokesman for the Taliban has said the nation’s new government will be announced soon, but when asked he did not specify when.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference that after capturing Panjshir, the last holdout of resistance forces, the Taliban now controlled the entire country, however the group’s claim has been disputed by resistance fighters who said they were still in position and fighting.

“We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban & their partners will continue until justice & freedom prevails,” the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) said in a tweet.

Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the resistance forces, said in a Twitter message that he was safe.

Minister admits ‘embarrassing’ blunder over Afghanistan veteran suicide

09:15 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post, here’s Adam Forrest with a bit more on what defence minister James Heappey said and then revoked this morning.

Minister admits ‘embarrassing’ blunder over Afghanistan veteran suicide

Sign The Independent’s petition urging UK to take in more Afghan refugees

09:30 , Sam Hancock

The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban seizing power and the withdrawal of Western troops.

Afghans are now facing a similar plight. You, our readers, have already shown your strength of feeling in letters and on social media. Here’s a chance to have your voice heard by adding your signature. We thank you for your support.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Video shows Taliban raising flag in Panjshir

10:00 , Sam Hancock

Footage of the Taliban raising its infamous white and black flag in Panjshir, where the group claims to have taken control, is circulating on social media.

It comes after the National Resistance Front for Afghanistan (NRF) disputed the militant group’s takeover and tweeted that its fighters were still in position.

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Watch: Blair delivers speech on 9/11 and fallout from Afghanistan

10:04 , Sam Hancock

Former PM Tony Blair is about to deliver a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

He will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which took place when he was in office, as well as discuss aspects of Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

You can watch his address live here:

Anti-Taliban feelings in Afghanistan show mission’s success - Blair

10:14 , Sam Hancock

Tony Blair has said the West should take some some comfort in the knowledge that a huge number of Afghans did not want the Taliban to return, or for our troops to leave.

“Our remaking [of Afghanistan] didn’t fail because the people [of Afghanistan] wanted it to,” he said.

“The Taliban took over by force, not by persuasion.”

The former Labour PM went on to say Nato had to figure out how it could resolve the crisis “without the support of the US”.

Blair: ‘West hasn’t ended forever war, just our part in it’

10:23 , Sam Hancock

Tony Blair has explained why he takes issue with the notion that the West has “ended the forever war” by withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The phrase is one Joe Biden, the US president, used to justify his decision to remove US troops from the country after 20 years.

Asked by the RUSI’s associate director, Jonathan Eyal, to explain why did not like the phrase, Mr Blair said it was one that had been used by leaders - “particularly in the US” - for generations.

After clarifying he had “massive respect for [Mr] Biden”, the former Labour leader said:

“The main problem with that choice of wording is this: we haven’t ended the war in Afghanistan by leaving, we have simply ended our involvement in it.”

Video shows Taliban painting over murals in Kabul

10:28 , Sam Hancock

Footage coming out of Kabul shows Taliban fighters whitewashing the capital’s walls.

Colourful murals of men and women are being removed and painted over with black and white Islamist texts and quotes from Taliban leaders, in a nod to the departure of US troops.

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Windrush claimants fear being ‘forgotten’ amid Afghanistan crisis

10:50 , Sam Hancock

Windrush campaigners have expressed concern about compensation claimants being “left at the back of the queue” amid the Afghanistan crisis.

Only 412 of the 2,367 claims submitted had received a final award despite the process being open for two years, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee published, writes our race correspondent Nadine White.

Campaigning group Windrush Lives told The Independent that the Home Office has the resources to deal with both of these issues - if only it were “operating sensibly and in good faith”.

Windrush victims fear being ‘forgotten’ amid Afghan crisis

Blair issues warning over continued threat of ‘Radical Islam’

11:05 , Sam Hancock

Some more from Tony Blair’s speech now. The former PM warned that “Radical Islam” remains a “first-order security threat” 20 years after the 9/11 terror attacks.

He also urged leaders from around the world to come together to develop a common strategy to counter the menace to their societies.

In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) military think tank, Mr Blair, who first committed British troops to Afghanistan in 2001, said that it was clear “Radical Islam” had not declined as a force in that time.

He said its ideology, turning religion into political doctrine backed if necessary by armed struggle, inevitably brought it into conflict with open, modern culturally tolerant societies.

“In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat; and, unchecked, it will come to us, even if centred far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated,” he said. “Like revolutionary communism, it operates in many different arenas and dimensions - and like it, its defeat will come ultimately through confronting both the violence and the ideology, by a combination of hard and soft power.”

Blair speaks to Jonathan Eyal of the RUSI (YouTube/The Independent)
Blair speaks to Jonathan Eyal of the RUSI (YouTube/The Independent)

Taliban appeals to Germany for investment in Afghanistan

11:30 , Sam Hancock

The Taliban has said it would welcome German investment in Afghanistan and would appreciate help in areas including humanitarian aid, health care, education and infrastructure.

Afghanistan currently faces an economic collapse and humanitarian crisis while donors and governments weigh up how to deal with the country’s new militant leaders.

Germany, acting in concert with the EU, has laid out conditions to resume a diplomatic presence in Kabul and unfreeze development aid, urging the Taliban to respect human rights, particularly those of women.

“The German government could encourage its entrepreneurs to come and invest in our country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an interview with the Bild newspaper.

The Taliban would pave the way for investments and ensure German companies’ security, he said. He added the Taliban would be “very happy” to welcome Chancellor Angela Merkel - who is about to step down as Germany’s leader - for a visit in Afghanistan.

The German military evacuated more than 5,000 people from Kabul airport at the end of August, but thousands of former local staff and their families are still in the country. Berlin has promised to get them out.

Germany’s designated ambassador to Kabul, Markus Potzel, has been negotiating with the Taliban in Doha to gain safe passage for them.

Taliban orders women university students to cover face

12:00 , Sam Hancock

As private universities prepared to open on Monday in Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a decree asking all women students to wear clothes that cover their faces and bodies.

The group issued a lengthy document that said women students should wear abaya - a loose-fitting, full-length robe, mostly black in colour - and niqab - a veil that covers most of the face except for the eyes - and must only be taught by other women or “old men of good character.”

Classes in universities have to be segregated by gender and if that is not possible, then the two should be divided by a curtain, the Taliban said.

Maroosha Muzaffar has more:

Taliban orders women university students to wear abaya and niqab

12:26 , Sam Hancock

In this harrowing Twitter thread, The Sunday Times’ Shanti Das lays out the frank reality for British nationals stuck in Afghanistan.

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Tony Blair suggests Western leaders were ‘maybe naive’ in original Afghanistan intervention

12:44 , Tim Wyatt

Tony Blair has said he may have been naive to think Afghanistan could have been permanently “remade”, even as he issued a strong defence of western interventionism and values following the withdrawal of Western forces from the country.

The former prime minister, who sent British troops into Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, said the chaos that saw tens of thousands flee its returning theocratic rulers showed people identified with western liberal values no matter where they lived.

Britain and Europe must be willing to defend democracy and free expression in the face of religious tyranny and the threat of terrorism, he added.

Jon Sharman has more:

Blair suggests western leaders were ‘maybe naive’ in Afghanistan

Boom time for local arms dealers after Western withdrawal

13:29 , Tim Wyatt

A mountain of guns, ammunition and other equipment left behind by the departing American and British troops in Afghanistan is now for sale in markets.

The AFP news agency has interviewed one small arms dealer in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province, whose shop is selling US-made pistols, bullets, grenades, flak jackets and walkie talkiers.

As well as picking up arms abandoned by Western forces, some Afghans have also brought in their own personal weapons to sell off, believing the country will become more peaceful now the Taliban have retaken control.

Another shop in the same market in Panjwai is even selling light machine guns, American M16 and M4 assault rifles, and AK-47s.

But the vendors said only the Taliban’s fighters were permitted to buy the array of guns on show.

NRF leader urges Afghans to join anti-Taliban movement

14:15 , Sam Hancock

A message from the leader of Afghanistan’s National Resistance Front (NFR) has been translated into English.

In it, Ahmad Massoud urges fellow Afghans to “seize the moment” and join the NFR’s fight to stop the Taliban from controlling Afghanistan once again.

He warned that the country’s “subjugated” future is one that will see more people killed, unless something is done.

“For those of you who want to take up arms, we are with you. For those who will resort to protests, we will stand next to you, will join you, and will declare our support with your struggle,” Massoud wrote. “For saving our motherland, we are ready to remain with you.”

Massoud also took aim at the “international community” and blamed Western allied for “providing the Taliban with the ruinous opportunity that helped them gain political legitimacy and entitlement”.

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Facebook post behind minister’s veteran suicide claim ‘likely fake’

14:25 , Sam Hancock

A minister was forced to backtrack after claiming a British veteran who served in Afghanistan had taken their own life – admitting he had made a “deeply embarrassing” mistake after seeing the post on social media.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was still looking into the viral social media post shared on Facebook – but officials believe it is likely to be a fake, reports Adam Forrest.

The Independent understands that MoD is still looking into the origin of the initial post as well as double-checking service personnel records. But officials have conducted an initial check through personnel records, and are confident the suicide note is fraudulent.

Government says Facebook post behind minister’s veteran suicide claim likely fake

Closer look: Panjshir’s history and what occupation means

14:53 , Sam Hancock

It seems likely that the Taliban’s alleged takeover of Panjshir province will soon be confirmed by the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF).

The rebel fighters have so far refused to confirm the Taliban’s claims to have taken the last unoccupied patch of the country.

So, what do we know about Panjshir and the battle for the valley?

Where is Panjshir?

Located just north of capital city Kabul, Panjshir is one of the smallest of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. However, it is of strategic importance, providing a route out of Kabul to the north, where important cities like Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz are located.

It is populated largely by ethnic Tajiks, a sizeable minority group in Afghanistan.

The region’s mountainous, rugged terrain and deep central valley give defenders a significant advantage, forcing attackers to traverse steep mountain passes or enter through the mouth of the valley, where they have to face off against foes commanding higher ground.

What is the region’s recent history?

Panjshir was a critical province in the resistance against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

It was also the centre of resistance against the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

What happens next?

The capture of Panjshir would be a significant achievement for the Taliban, who have never been able to hold the valley. But it is not yet clear how much of the province they control.

While the group posted photos of its fighters standing in front of the provincial governor’s compound, much of the province is composed of smaller, remote mountain valleys that provide areas for opposition forces to regroup.

However, NRF leader Ahmad Massoud’s father drew much of his power through access to Tajikistan via Takhar province, which he also controlled. If the Taliban’s claims are true, the militant group now have that, making resupplying any remaining opposition fighters more difficult.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Watch: Taliban orders women university students to cover faces

15:05 , Sam Hancock

As private universities prepared to open on Monday in Afghanistan, women students faced new regulations issued by the Taliban, including having to wear a floor-length abaya and niqab that leaves only the eyes uncovered.

Women must also leave lessons five minutes earlier and stay in waiting rooms until their male counterparts have left the building.

The Taliban has vowed to be more accommodating than their first stint in power, reports Sophie Wingate.

Watch the clip here:

Watch: Taliban orders women university students to wear face-covering niqab

US confirms first extraction of stranded US citizen

15:14 , Sam Hancock

The US confirmed for the first time that it has helped a US citizen and their family members to escape Afghanistan, according to a report by AP.

Officials are said to have achieved the escape by moving the family through an overland route to a neighbouring country.The citizen and their children “successfully departed Afghanistan using an overland route” and were met by American Embassy staff at the border, a US official told the news agency on Monday.

The official would not reveal details of the evacuation or the country in which they arrived, citing security reasons and the need to preserve the viability of the route for possible future efforts.

It marks the first overland extraction the US government has confirmed since it ended its air evacuation effort last week with the final withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

PM to address MPs about Afghanistan in next few minutes

15:28 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson is minutes away from giving an address to MPs at the House of Commons.

Upon Parliament’s return after the summer recess, the PM is expected to speak about Afghanistan, specifically to address criticism he has received for his handling of the crisis.

Mr Johnson is scheduled to speak at 3.30pm, while foreign secretary Dominic Raab will then speak on the same topic an hour later.

We’ll keep you updated with the key messages he puts out.

UK ‘working to secure you safe passage,’ PM tells stranded Afghans

15:42 , Sam Hancock

The prime minister has said the government is “working with our friends in the region to secure safe passage” for all those left behind in Kabul and neighbouring regions.

Boris Johnson also used his address to reiterate the party’s recent change of heart to give Afghan “refugees not five-year visas, but an indefinite leave to remain”.

The Home Office recently announced that any Afghans who worked for the British military and UK government will be able to move to the UK permanently, rather than the five years’ residency previously offered.

Johnson issued a swift statement to the Commons on Monday (Parliament TV)
Johnson issued a swift statement to the Commons on Monday (Parliament TV)

15:45 , Sam Hancock

That’s it from us on the Afghanistan blog for today, head over to our UK politics blog for the latest updates on Boris Johnson’s speech and Labour’s reaction.

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