Speaking to the House of Commons today on Afghanistan and the EU summit, prime minister David Cameron said that the number of British troops in Afghanistan will be reduced from 7,900 to 5,200 by the end of the year, and that there will be no troops operating in any combat role by the end of 2014.
Britain is also funding an Afghan army academy on the Sandhurst model, and that the Afghan army has dealt with recent attacks in Kabul on its own – meaning there is no reason to expect a split after UK forces leave.
He defended Britain's involvement, saying that non-intervention in Afghanistan led to it becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and notes that the number of terror plots against the UK originating from the country has decreased from three quarters to less than half.
On last week’s summit, he reported that there was a “further attempt to unpick the British rebate” (which involves the UK getting back two thirds of the difference between what it puts in to the EU budget and what it gets back - in certain areas), which he called unacceptable and frustrating, potentially costing the UK £1.5bn. In the end, however, there was no cut.
Cameron added that the EU leaders and the UK independently would look into scrapping unnecessary regulation to boost growth, and that the European Investment Bank will increase lending by 40 per cent, focusing on small and medium sized businesses. Britain has always believed in a "wider, looser" Europe, he added, and the EU will have to become more flexible if that is going to be achieved.
There would also be a focus on tackling youth unemployment by giving them proper educational training along the lines of Britain’s youth contract – an idea that Labour leader Ed Miliband argued was not a solution to the problem.
When asked if Croatia's arrival in the EU will increase the burden on EU funds, Cameron replied that there will be a "modest" increase - but that there will also be a bigger market for British goods.
Cameron accused the Labour party of being split over an EU referendum and scared of even discussing the issue, referencing their decision not to turn up to vote next Friday on the private member’s bill mandating a vote on the issue by 2017 from Conservative MP James Wharton. Cameron has thrown his full support behind the bill, imposing a three-line whip (the strictest instruction) on Tory MPs to vote it through the first stage. He said the Labour policy on the issue could be summed up in three words: “weak, weak, weak”.
There was also a mention of the prime minister's controversial visit to Kazakhstan on Sunday and Monday. "It is vital we expand our trade and increase overseas investment into the UK" he said.
Since 2000, this country has seen growth at an annual rate of between eight and nine per cent, per capita income has doubled and it has the potential to be the sixth largest oil and gas producer in the world. My business delegation signed deals worth over £700 million – all of which will help create and sustain jobs here in the UK.
There's also been suggestions that Cameron brought another English tradition to the country.
David Cameron spent one of his evenings in Kazakhstan drinking in a pub called ‘The Irish Bar’. Typical unadventurous British tourist.— Gord Matheson (@gordmatheson) July 2, 2013