British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab is facing calls to resign after news reports of his failure to make a crucial phone call about the airlift of Afghan interpreters who aided UK troops ahead of the Taliban’s push into Kabul.
Last Friday, Raab – who was holidaying in Crete at the time – was advised by senior foreign ministry officials to speak urgently with his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar, according to The Daily Mail newspaper. He was reportedly told it was important the call came from him, and not a junior minister.
However, the paper said Raab was “unavailable”. The responsibility then fell on Zac Goldsmith, the junior minister on duty. But this was said to be unacceptable to the Afghan foreign ministry, which refused to set up the call.
“The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister,” the UK Foreign Office told the paper, which reported that no conversation took place till at least Saturday. The Taliban seized control of Kabul on Sunday.
The call would reportedly have covered issues like allowing Afghans to board flights out of the country without passports and visas.
Stressing that the call was “urgent”, department officials had also apparently informed Raab’s office that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III had already spoken with Atmar.
The revelation has prompted calls for Raab – already in trouble for going on holiday during the crisis – to either step down or be dismissed for “dereliction of duty” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In response to Raab’s query in Parliament on Wednesday about what he would have done differently, Labour leader Keir Starmer said he “wouldn’t stay on holiday whilst Kabul was falling”.
"You cannot coordinate an international response from the beach."Keir Starmer eviscerates Boris Johnson's response to the Afghanistan crisis in a powerful end to his speech in parliament. pic.twitter.com/zcXvsZFAIF
— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) August 18, 2021
“Who wouldn’t make a phone call if they were told it could save somebody’s life?” Starmer tweeted on Thursday – as opposition parties and even some Tory parliamentarians kept the pressure on while Downing Street expressed “full confidence” in Raab.
Noting that Johnson “has serious questions to answer over why [Raab] remains in the job”, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said that “while the foreign secretary lay on a sun lounger, the Taliban advanced on Kabul and 20 years of progress was allowed to unravel in a matter of hours.”
However, Raab insisted that he did not spend “all day lounging on the beach” and claimed to have taken part in a series of meetings while on holiday at a five-star luxury resort on the island. According to media reports, he arrived back in the UK on Sunday night.
Raab has also continued to push back against calls for his resignation, telling reporters on Thursday that he would not do so. Earlier in the week, he had drawn criticism and ridicule after claiming “no one saw [the Taliban’s offensive] coming”.
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UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace has come out in support of his cabinet colleague, telling the BBC that phone calls to Atmar “at that moment in time” would not have “made a blind bit of difference” since the Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice” by Friday.
According to the Guardian, Tory MPs have privately pressed the government for a formal inquiry into the UK’s failures in Afghanistan and asked Johnson to release UK intelligence analyses on the Taliban’s rapid advance in recent weeks.
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