Letter suggests Boris Johnson’s involvement in Nowzad evacuation despite No 10 denials

The letter to Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing from the PM’s aide was produced by MP Chris Bryant

Boris Johnson’s parliamentary aide wrote to the founder of an Afghan animal charity saying all 68 of his staff would be airlifted out of Kabul by the RAF while his dogs and cats would be rescued by a chartered plane.

The letter to former royal marine Paul “Pen” Farthing, who ran the Nowzad shelter, was produced by MP Chris Bryant at the end of a session of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, during which senior members of the Foreign Office repeatedly said there “was no prioritisation of animals” in the Afghan evacuation and no political interference over the action taken involving the charity.

It also came after the prime minister dismissed claims made by a Foreign Office whistleblower that he had intervened to help the charity as “complete nonsense”. The PM’s office described the claims as “entirely untrue”, adding that at “no point did the prime minister intervene. We’ve always prioritised people over animals, as we’ve said both during and subsequently”.

Mr Bryant asked the Foreign Office officials why the letter, written by Mr Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary Trudy Harrison, did not “equate” with what they had said during the committee hearing and suggested they were taking part in a cover-up.

He said: “It feels very much like a direction from the prime minister to me. I’m hesitant to use the word cover-up, but that’s what it feels like.”

The Foreign Office’s top civil servant Sir Philip Barton

After a moment of noticeable silence, Sir Philip Barton, the Foreign Office’s top civil servant, said: “We’ve set out in good faith our understanding of the position. I’m not aware of the message you’re talking about. I’m very happy to look at it. We have not set out to mislead you.”

Another committee member, Conservative MP Bob Seely, referred to Mr Farthing as the “Nowzad Noah” and asked whether there was a “ministerial instruction or an instruction from on high” to prioritise animals over “Afghans who would have served with us”.

The hearing followed the publication of evidence to the committee by Raphael Marshall, a former official at the Foreign Office, in which he claimed that chaotic organisation, lack of allocation of resources and confusion over policy severely damaged the evacuation programme.

Mr Marshall had also claimed that the criteria for those eligible for evacuation had been changed for the Nowzad staff, none of whom qualified as being “at risk”, after the intervention of the prime minister.

In his evidence, Mr Marshall said: “There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghans evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers.

“This is because soldiers tasked with escorting the dogs through the crowd and into the airport would by definition have otherwise been deployed to support the evacuation of British nationals or Afghans prioritised for evacuation, notably by helping families out of the dangerous crowd into the airport. I believe that British soldiers were put at risk in order to bring Nowzad’s animals into the airport.”

Mr Marshall’s testimony led to the Downing Street rebuttal. However, the letter stated from Ms Harrison said: “I am writing to inform you that I have received confirmation from the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence that you, your staff and their dependents are permitted to go to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“The Secretary of Defence has made it clear that all 68 people will be provided with a flight by the RAF as part of the evacuation process. The Secretary of State has also confirmed that all animals under the care of Nowzad can be evacuated on a separate, chartered flight. The Ministry of Defence will make sure that a flight slot is available.”

Government officials had earlier denied claims by Dominic Dyer, a member of the Nowzad campaign team, who said he had sought help from the prime minister and his wife Carrie.

He told the BBC: “I forced the prime minister’s arm, I think all of us behind this campaign did.

“Obviously I knew Carrie Johnson, I made it clear my concerns to her, no doubt she spoke to him [the prime minister]. Carrie Johnson took the message forward, not just through me but through the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.”

The exchange over the animal charity brought to an end an acrimonious session at the committee, during which Sir Philip was repeatedly asked why he chose to go on holiday as the Taliban advanced towards Kabul.

Dominic Raab, the then-foreign secretary, was on holiday at the same time – meaning, said the MPs at the committee, that a core part of the leadership of the Foreign Office was on vacation during one of the biggest foreign policy crises in recent times.

Sir Philip said: “I have reflected a lot in August on my leave, and if I had my time again I would have come back from my leave earlier than I did.”

However, he refused to say where he was on holiday and whether he booked it after it became clear that Kabul may fall.

Tom Tugendhat, the committee chairperson, said he found it “strange” that Sir Philip chose to remain on holiday after even Mr Raab had returned.

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns told him: “I don’t think it is enough to say ‘mea culpa’. How in two weeks did at no point you go: ‘I can’t, I have to go in and protect my people?”’

Following the hearing, Mr Tugendhat said: “Today’s session left the committee concerned about the Foreign Office’s role in the evacuation effort. We have seen the disintegration of a nation British troops laid down their lives to protect.

“In leaving, many Afghan friends and partners were abandoned. This crisis demanded, and deserved, the full attention of the Foreign Office. It seems that junior staff members and soldiers bore most of the burden, having been placed under huge pressure to make life-or-death decisions with insufficient guidance, support or oversight.

“The evidence we’ve heard today points to a lack of leadership, urgency and adequate resourcing. It is deeply painful how badly we have let Afghanistan down.”

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