Boris Johnson has cut short his holiday to chair another emergency Cobra meeting on Afghanistan today following the rapid fall of capital city Kabul over the weekend.
The meeting is the third in four days as the UK scrambles to respond to the advance of the Taliban, which now controls the country after president Ashraf Ghani fled the capital on Sunday.
The prime minister is thought to have been holidaying in the south west on Saturday but he returned to Downing Street the following day, No.10 confirmed, as the UK kickstarted a rapid operation to evacuate British nationals and local Afghan allies.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson would not say how many British nationals remained in the country but said 600 military personnel were on the ground to help bring them back, along with those with UK visas.
He said the Afghan relocations and assistance policy to help resettle local allies was “open-ended”.
“We will continue to do everything we can, our offer is open-ended, we haven’t put an end date on that and we will continue to do all we can including – as the defence secretary said – should individuals manage to get to other countries and be brought in from those other countries,” he said.
“We want to obviously continue to do this as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, was working from Kabul airport alongside Home Office staff, other diplomats and troops to process visas.
There were widespread scenes of Afghans trying to escape from Kabul airport on Monday, including a video showing people clinging desperately to a US airforce plane that was leaving the airport.
The scramble has led to calls for the UK and other western nations to accept Afghan refugees as quickly as possible.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “We need to get UK nationals out, but we also have an obligation to all of those Afghans who helped and assisted the UK, and we shouldn’t have nice distinctions between this type of person, this type of help, and that type of help.
“If those in Afghan have helped us, the UK, in our work in Afghanistan, we have got an obligation to them.”
Downing Street said it not yet set a target for how many refugees it would take but that it wanted to agree a way forward with other international leaders.
“We’ll be setting out detail in the coming days on our approach to wider asylum claims,” the spokesman said.
“We’ll be speaking to other world leaders about how we can take a unified approach. I think it’s clear that no one country has the capability to deal with this alone and we want to work together on that.”
No.10 was forced into a U-turn at the weekend after initially telling 35 Afghan students that their scholarships would be deferred for a year because their visas could not be processed in time.
Following a backlash Johnson later said the government would do “whatever we can to accelerate their visas to get them over as well”.
And the prime minister’s spokesman said: “I think what is right is that we do everything we can to get these people who have secured these scholarships over to the UK.”