Dominic Raab denies paddle-boarding while Kabul fell: ‘The sea was closed’

Dominic Raab is facing continued pressure over the fact that he was on holiday while Afghanistan fell to the Taliban

Dominic Raab has responded to claims that he was paddle-boarding in Crete while Kabul fell to the Taliban by saying that the sea was “closed”.

When asked directly about this on Sky News, the foreign secretary said: “Nonsense. The sea was actually closed — there was a red notice.”

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He also said he was not asked to return from his holiday on Friday August 13.

At-a-glance: 5 key points

  • Raab has so far defied calls to quit over his widely-criticised decision, but said “of course with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn’t have gone away”.
  • Raab said the UK will use “every hour” left to evacuate people from Afghanistan as he declined to rule out British troops having to leave by the end of Friday.
  • US President Joe Biden rejected calls from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other allies to delay his August 31 exit date, citing the heightened security risks to troops.
  • Raab said Britain is working “as fast as we can” to maximise the number of people who can flee, but declined to state when the last British flight will leave Kabul, amid suggestions that the UK operation will have to end as soon as Friday.
  • The Prime Minister had hoped to persuade Biden to maintain his forces on the ground to allow the evacuation effort more time during an emergency meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday, but the US president refused to budge.

What’s been said?

Raab told Sky News: “The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense,” he told Sky News.

“The stuff about me paddleboarding, nonsense, the sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.”

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about claims that he was asked to return home by his department, Raab said: “I was not asked by my officials. I was not directed home.”

He went on: “I’m not going to add any more to the speculation in the media. What I can tell you is that from that period I was engaged from a hotel room, my family was on the beach, not me. I checked in on them episodically, but the idea that I was lounging on the beach is just nonsense.

“I was in a hotel room, engaged on Cobra, directing and working with my emergency response team and talking to the director and the director-general, engaged with international partners.

“And, as a result of those efforts… from exactly the point in time you are talking about, we secured the safe passage back to the UK of 9,000.”

Asked why he did not return to the UK on August 13, when it was clear the situation was deteriorating, he said: “I don’t think it was as clear as you are suggesting.”

“With the benefit of hindsight … of course I would have come back, I probably wouldn’t have gone on leave at all, but we deal with the assessments that we are given.”

He added: “The pace of the Taliban takeover, I think, even caught the Taliban by surprise.”

Background

News that Raab had been out of the country during what one MP described as the “biggest single policy disaster since Suez” was met with condemnation by many.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was “shameful” for Raab to be absent during the crisis.

Raab had been staying at the Amirandes Hotel in Crete, a five-star resort which boasts its own private beach and “one of the biggest pools you'll ever see”, according to its website.

A poll by Savanta ComRes for Left Food Forward showed that 51% believed the foreign secretary should resign. The survey of 2,083 adults also showed that just 24% disagreed.

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