Tory Minister Gives 'Car Crash' Response On Sudan Evacuation On BBC Question Time

Rachel Maclean accuses critics of stirring up a “personality psychodrama” when it's pointed out ministers have said different things on helping refugees.

A Tory minister has given a “car crash” performance while defending the government’s rescue mission in war-torn Sudan.

Appearing on BBC’s Question Time, Rachel Maclean added to the confusion over whether Britain is helping refugees to escape during a temporary ceasefire – and even accused critics of stirring up a “personality psychodrama” when it was pointed out fellow ministers were giving different answers.

The RAF has airlifted nearly 900 people from an airfield near the capital Khartoum – but thousands more British nationals may remain in Sudan.

There has been confusion over whether there are safe and legal routes for refugees to get to the UK, and the Foreign Office has not said how many of the evacuees are Britons or foreign nationals.

Foreign office minister Andrew Mitchell said refugees fleeing Sudan do not have a safe and legal way to enter the UK – which seemed to contradict home secretary Suella Braverman, who had claimed they can apply for asylum via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But this was denied by the UNHCR.

On Thursday, foreign secretary James Cleverly addressed the concerns in the Commons, but noted Sudan was not the only conflict area in the world and the government’s migration reforms would be “as we have promised, establishing safe and legal routes”.

The confusion was picked up by panelists and host Fiona Bruce on Question Time – and the waters seemed to be muddied further.

Maclean said there was “a degree of discretion” on the ground about who should be allowed on evacuation flights – but it was then pointed out that this is different to what the foreign secretary had told the Commons just hours earlier.

Maclean appeared to instantly backtrack, saying: “Forgive me, I would absolutely go with what the foreign secretary said on the floor of the house. I mean, come on, he is the foreign secretary and obviously he is coordinating. I’m a government minister responsible for housing.”

Bruce then probed Maclean over “who can come out” of Sudan and Telegraph journalist Camilla Tominey pointed out the different positions taken, asking her: “Where does that leave us?”

Maclean replied bluntly: “I think you’re trying to make this into a sort of personality psychodrama which with respect is completely wrong.”

When asked again which minister was right, Maclean said: “This is a military operation, and at the end of the day, the people on the ground in Sudan are military personnel, are the ones who are leading with that, being directed by the prime minister through all the usual channels.”

Labour’s Lisa Nandy, who compared the Sudan mission the the botched Afghanistan evacuation, said: “You shouldn’t be leaving the military in a position where they’re having to turn people away for lack of clarity because government can’t agree.”

Britain had been urging the rival generals to extend the ceasefire, which should help stave off a feared humanitarian crisis in Africa’s third largest country.

More than 2,000 British nationals in Sudan have registered under the evacuation plans but the true number of citizens there could be far higher.

As of 4pm on Thursday, the Foreign Office said that 897 people had been evacuated over eight RAF airlifts.


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