The foreign secretary has been accused of being “AWOL” as the Taliban has rapidly retaken Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops.
The Taliban’s rapid advance through the country has seen them retake the capital, Kabul, in recent days, prompting many to flee the country.
Is Dominic Raab on holiday?
It was reported on Sunday, as Taliban fighters moved on the Afghan capital, that the minister in charge of overseeing the UK’s response to the crisis had been on holiday during the previous week.
The Foreign Office confirmed that Raab was returning to the UK on Sunday (15 August), after the Times reported that the foreign secretary had “defied advice” and taken a holiday.
It has been reported that Raab was staying in Cyprus although this has yet to be confirmed by the Foreign Office or the secretary of state.
The Telegraph reported that Raab had failed to make contact with UK ambassadors in any of the countries bordering Afghanistan by Sunday afternoon.
An Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary is personally overseeing the FCDO response and engaging with international partners. He is returning to the UK [Sunday], given the situation.”
The situation in Afghanistan has been worsening for several weeks, in the run up to and following the withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Parliament is currently in a recess period which was due to end in September, but will be recalled on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
News that Raab had been out of the country during what one MP described as the “biggest single policy disaster since Suez” has been met with condemnation by many.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was “shameful” for Raab to be absent during the crisis, and called on the government to evacuate British personnel and support staff.
While head of the foreign affairs select committee chair and Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tom Tugendhat, said “we haven’t heard from the Foreign Secretary in about a week, despite this being the biggest single policy disaster since Suez”.
Nandy said: “For the foreign secretary to go AWOL during an international crisis of this magnitude is nothing short of shameful.
“A catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes and while the Foreign Secretary is nowhere to be seen, hundreds of British nationals are being evacuated and his department is cancelling scholarships for young Afghans.
After initial reports suggesting they wouldn’t be able to come to the UK, Boris Johnson today said the government will help 34 students in Kabul who were to be granted visas to study in the UK under the Chevening scholarship scheme.
She continued: “Given our long involvement in the region and the sacrifices made by British troops, the government’s priority must be evacuating British personnel and support staff to safety and setting out a clear strategy to avoid a humanitarian crisis on an appalling scale.
What is going on in Afghanistan?
The Taliban have taken over the city of Kabul and claimed victory in Afghanistan after almost 20 years of a US-led coalition leading the country.
Taliban members were pictured in the presidential palace after President Ghani fled. Thousands of residents and foreign nationals are now also attempting to flee the country.
The Taliban’s offensive across Afghanistan has accelerated dramatically in recent days, with fighters taking the last major city, Kabul, on Sunday after the withdrawal of foreign troops and exit by the president.
The Taliban said they were going into the city to stop chaos and looting after security forces left parts of the capital, and have seized the presidential palace.
The city has reportedly descended into chaos, with thousands of foreign nationals and residents heading to the airport in an attempt to flee the country.
British and American nationals remain in the country, with President Biden and Boris Johnson deploying troops in an attempt to withdraw them as quickly as possible.