Fresh emails emerge as PM calls claims he aided animal airlift ‘total rhubarb’

Boris Johnson has been accused of lying after leaked emails contradicted his stance of denying his involvement.

Sam Blewett
Thursday 27 January 2022 15:22
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Hanson Aggregates in Penmaenmawr, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Hanson Aggregates in Penmaenmawr, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)

Fresh evidence has emerged suggesting No 10 was involved in the airlift of animals out of Afghanistan as Boris Johnson sought to dismiss allegations that he personally intervened as “total rhubarb”.

Accused of lying, the Prime Minister tried to fend off allegations that he assisted the approval of the evacuation of cats and dogs with the Nowzad charity from Kabul.

But, as he was talking, further leaked correspondence was published, suggesting that then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab and No 10 were involved in the decision.

Downing Street has repeatedly denied intervening in any individual cases in the final days of the mission as thousands of people wanting to flee the Taliban were left behind.

But an email shared with a Commons inquiry shows a Foreign Office official saying in August that the Prime Minister had just “authorised” the animals’ rescue.

And the BBC reported another email from the same day saying Mr Raab was “seeking a steer from No 10 on whether” to call Nowzad staff forward.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to North Wales, Mr Johnson said: “This whole thing is total rhubarb.”

Pressed if he intervened, he responded: “Absolutely not, the military always prioritised human beings.”

Labour accused Mr Johnson of having been “caught out lying” when correspondence seemingly contradicting his denials that he had ever intervened first emerged.

Emails shared with the Foreign Affairs Committee show an official in Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith’s private office telling colleagues on August 25 that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

Another Foreign Office official referred to the “PM’s decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity” in a separate email sent on August 25.

BBC Newsnight’s Sima Kotecha went on to obtain an email from the deputy principal private secretary to Mr Raab at the time discussing Nowzad staff being called forward for evacuation.

“The FS is seeking a steer from No 10 on whether to call them forward now,” it read.

Another email from Nigel Casey, the Prime Minister’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, showed him asking the national security adviser “to seek clear guidance for us from No 10 asap on what they would like us to do”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson rides in the back seat of a Government car (Victoria Jones/PA)

Allies of Mr Johnson were trying to downplay the situation, with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissing calls for a debate as “fussing about a few animals”.

The emails to the Commons inquiry were submitted by Raphael Marshall, who worked for the Foreign Office at the time and alleges the animals were evacuated following an order from Mr Johnson.

The evidence appears to contradict the Prime Minister, who previously described suggestions he had personally intervened as “complete nonsense”.

Downing Street sought to argue the officials in the first correspondence to be published may have been mistaken.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s not uncommon in Whitehall for a decision to be interpreted or portrayed as coming directly from the Prime Minister even when that’s not the case and it’s our understanding that’s what happened in this instance.

“We appreciate it was a frenetic time for those officials dealing with this situation.”

A previously leaked letter showed Conservative MP Trudy Harrison then parliamentary private secretary to Mr Johnson, also hinted at involvement.

Pen Farthing was the founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad (Nowzad/PA)

The MP for Copeland wrote to Nowzad founder Paul “Pen” Farthing on August 25 to inform him the evacuation could go ahead.

With it unclear how the charity is connected to the Cumbrian constituency, Mr Marshall said No 10’s claim she was acting in her capacity as a constituency MP was “not credible”.

He told the committee: “A request for the evacuation of Nowzad’s staff from Ms Harrison in her capacity as MP for Copeland would have been disregarded.”

In another development, Ms Harrison admitted contacting a private charter company in an attempt to secure a plane to transport Nowzad’s staff and animals.

A charter employee told Sky News the Tory MP contacted the unnamed firm on August 25, making clear she was working for the Prime Minister, repeatedly referring to him as “the boss”.

In a statement, Ms Harrison responded: “I was assisting Pen Farthing and Nowzad as a constituency MP in response to many Copeland constituents’ requests to assist.”

Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson played “no role” in authorising individual evacuations during the RAF rescue mission, Operation Pitting.

As Kabul fell to the Taliban, Mr Farthing launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out, using a plane funded through donations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Hanson Aggregates in Penmaenmawr, North Wales (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Government sponsored clearance for the charter flight, leading to allegations that animals had been prioritised over people in the exit effort.

Dominic Dyer, an ally of Mr Farthing, has said he had spoken with ministers and Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie to “put pressure on him” over the evacuation.

On Thursday, Mr Dyer said he felt “vindicated” by the newly-released emails, adding: “I’m not certain why he didn’t feel he could explain his involvement in August at the end of this operation.”

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “Once again, the Prime Minister has been caught out lying about what he has been doing and deciding.

“He should never have given priority to flying animals out of Afghanistan while Afghans who worked for our armed forces were left behind.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister and Mrs Johnson had no involvement in the Pen Farthing evacuation, as we have said previously.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Raab, who was moved to become Justice Secretary amid anger over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis, declined to comment.

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