Dominic Raab has defied calls to quit over his Greek holiday, which he returned from as the Taliban captured Kabul in mid-August.
The Foreign Secretary has come under fire for being “unavailable” to make the urgent phone call to help Afghan interpreters flee Afghanistan.
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The call should have been made two days before the Taliban marched on the capital city of Kabul and took control, enabling help to be provided to interpreters who supported British troops.
Where was Dominic Raab on holiday?
Mr Raab was on holiday on the Greek island of Crete when the capital city of Kabul was seized by the Taliban, and was said to be staying at the luxurious five-star Amirandes Hotel.
The minister has refused to offer further details about his Crete holiday when faced with questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee, labelling the questions as a “fishing expedition”.
Members of the committee repeatedly pressed Mr Raab to tell them when he went on holiday, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant asking him three times, and SNP MP Stewart Malcolm McDonald asking him on six occasions.
Mr Bryant said: “On August 11, the US said the Taliban were likely to seize the whole country, it was just a question of how long it was going to take. Were you already on holiday?”
Mr Raab said the central assessment judged there would be Taliban “consolidation of power”, but it would take place in the “months following the evacuation”.
When pressed about his holiday, he repeated that he “would not have gone away, with the benefit of hindsight”, before insisting: “I am not going to start adding to, frankly, the fishing expedition beyond the facts that I have articulated and the fulsome statement and having answered questions on this continuously.”
Despite speculation that Mr Raab would be dropped at the next Cabinet reshuffle over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis, Downing Street has insisted that the Prime Minister maintains confidence in the Foreign Secretary.
Was the urgent phone call to Afghanistan made?
The Foreign Secretary was ‘not available’ to make the urgent phone call to Mr Atmar before Kabul fell to the Taliban.
It was initially reported that the Afghan Foreign Ministry refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, delaying it until the following day (14 August).
However, the Foreign Office has now admitted that the call was not made before the Afghan government collapsed.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development spokesperson said: “Given the rapidly changing situation, it was not possible to arrange a call before the Afghan government collapsed.”
Questioned about the actions of Mr Raab, defence minister James Heappey said people at all levels in the UK Government are “working their backsides off” to evacuate people.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “I don’t know the exact details of the Foreign Office ministers’ call sheets.
“What I can tell you, as the Secretary of State (Ben Wallace) said yesterday, is I know that no one phone call would have been decisive in changing the trajectory – either for the collapse of the Afghan government or indeed the acceleration of the airlift.”
Mr Heappey added he could only comment on what he sees in his meetings and via his phone calls.
He said: “What I see is that from the Prime Minister to secretaries of state to my junior ministerial colleagues around government to senior civil servants, all the way down to the brave volunteer civil servants who have gone forward to Kabul … is people across Her Majesty’s Government working their backsides off in order to get people out.”
Mr Heappey confirmed that 963 people have been evacuated from Kabul on the RAF “air bridge” in the last 24 hours.
Labour demands answers
It has also been reported that Sir Philip Barton, Matthew Rycroft and David Williams, the respective permanent secretaries of the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence, were also on holiday amid the evacuations from Afghanistan.
Senior officials are understood to have continued working on Afghanistan while on leave, but Labour has now demanded details about the government’s handling of the situation and Mr Raab’s holiday while the Taliban took control.
It has set out a list of 18 urgent questions for the Foreign Secretary to answer about his trip and his department’s handling of the crisis.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “For the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to be on holiday during the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation is an unforgivable failure of leadership.”
Labour, along with the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, have all called for Mr Raab to either quit or be sacked by the Prime Minister in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis.
Meanwhile, senior MPs have warned that the government must ensure it meets its responsibility towards UK-linked workers that have been “pursued into hiding” by Taliban forces.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and Conservative Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, urged Priti Patel to provide more resources to support issuing visas.
The urgent plea comes in an effort to ensure those who are trying to leave Afghanistan do not face any administrative delays which would be “unforgivable at this dangerous time”.
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