Everything we know so far about Dominic Raab and his early response to the Afghanistan crisis

Everything we know so far about Dominic Raab and his early response to the Afghanistan crisis

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, is facing renewed calls to resign from his cabinet role, as the government faces continued criticism over its response to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

The insurgents captured major cities in the country last week, before gaining control of the state after its president, Ashraf Ghani, fled abroad. A Nato official has since said that at least 20 people have died in the last week, near Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital of Kabul, during attempts to escape Afghanistan by plane.

As the crisis unfolded, Western countries considered their processes for getting officials and refugees out of the country. For the UK and Raab, a political backlash emerged over one particular phone call…

The phone call

Raab was on holiday in the Greek island of Crete when he was advised by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) officials last Friday to call Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Hanif Atmar.

The telephone conversation was to discuss evacuating interpreters who had assisted UK forces in the country, and feared for their lives under the Taliban’s rule.

On Wednesday, MailOnline reported that this call, advised by civil servants as the Taliban advanced towards Kabul, was passed on to another minister in the department. This is despite officials saying it was important that Raab made the call, and not a junior minister.

“The foreign secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister,” the Foreign Office said at the time.

The Mail also said that the call between the Afghan foreign ministry and a junior minister was rearranged for the next day, a delay which meant the situation in the country had developed – and worsened – by the time it had reportedly taken place.

Yet, it was revealed on Friday this week that the FCDO had admitted that the vital phone call had not taken place at all. Neither Raab, or any of his junior ministers, had contacted the Afghan ministry about rescuing interpreters.

“Given the rapidly changing situation it was not possible to arrange a call before the Afghan government collapsed,” a spokesperson confirmed.

The political reaction

Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said in a statement on Friday that it should have been an “absolute priority to speak to the Afghan government” to arrange the safe evacuation of Britons and Afghans.

“Who knows how many more people might have been saved in the hours leading up to the fall of Kabul if the Foreign Secretary had made the call he was advised to.

“To suggest it was too late to stop the capital falling to the Taliban is not a defence, but a shameful admission of his own failure to act sooner.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats’ spokeswoman for foreign affairs and international development, Layla Moran MP, said on Thursday that Raab “must resign today”.

“If he does not, the prime minister should finally show some leadership, and sack him. Right now, there are interpreters across Afghanistan who are surrounded by the Taliban and fearing the worst.

“All the foreign secretary had to do was leave the beach and pick up the phone. He did not.

“He has shamed Britain and is no longer fit to represent our country,” she said.

When it was confirmed that the call hadn’t taken place, Moran described it as a “willful dereliction of duty”.

Also on Thursday, the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP, said ministers “cannot wash their hands of responsibility” for what he described as a “foreign policy disaster”.

“Dominic Raab has failed to perform his basic duties as Foreign Secretary and he has put people’s lives at risk. His position is completely untenable and he must resign, or be sacked,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, when asked by reporters at Downing Street on Friday whether he was resigning, the foreign secretary simply replied with “no”.

He later released a statement on the GOV.UK website, in which he said that the call was “quickly overtaken by events”.

“The call was delegated to a Minister of State because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director general overseeing the crisis response. In any event, the Afghan foreign minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.

“The Government’s approach to prioritise security at the airport was the right one,” he said.

The prime minister’s involvement

When he was asked about his position on Raab and the phone call, Johnson said he “absolutely” has full confidence in the foreign secretary.

However, criticism was later aimed in his direction after The Sunday Times reported that No 10 officials recommended Raab “come back” from his Crete holiday last Friday, but he ended up staying for an extra two days following Johnson’s approval.

“On [that] Sunday, there was a sense of disbelief among everyone at the most senior levels in No 10 that he wasn’t there.

“He seems to have nobbled Boris after he was told to come back,” a government official told the outlet.

Speaking of holidays…

The civil servants

The Times revealed that in addition to Raab jetting off abroad, three of the government’s permanent secretaries were all on holiday as the Afghan crisis unfolded.

These Sir Philip Barton from the FCDO, Matthew Rycroft from the Home Office and David Williams from the Ministry of Defence.

It’s understood that the officials continued work on the ongoing incident in Afghanistan during their leave, while another minister or secretary covered for them.

“Departments across Whitehall have been working intensively at all levels in the last few days and weeks on the situation in Afghanistan,” a government spokesperson said.

What’s next?

In a series of blows published by the Mail on Sunday, officials accused Raab of “appalling negligence” as foreign secretary, and that he only reads just 20 per cent of his ministerial briefings.

This was disputed by a source close to the minister, who said the foreign secretary has “never not finished a Red Box”.

Meanwhile, Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip revealed on Friday that she has filed an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling for a reduction in Raab’s pay packet as a government minister.

“While interpreters were fleeing the country, the foreign secretary was on the beach. I have lodged an [EDM] calling for his ministerial wages to be docked in light of this dereliction of duty,” she tweeted.

At the time of writing, Raab remains in post, but the criticism, it seems, just keeps on coming.

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