Raab faces calls to resign after ‘failing to make call on evacuation of Afghan interpreters’ while on holiday

‘What could possibly have been more important than safeguarding the legacy of two decades of sacrifice and hard-won victories in Afghanistan,’ says Lisa Nandy

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 August 2021 09:08
Starmer condemns Johnson and Raab for going on holiday amid Afghanistan crisis

Dominic Raab is facing calls to resign after he reportedly failed to make a vital call over the evacuation of Afghan interpreters while he was on holiday — as the crisis unfolded in the region.

The foreign secretary, who faced severe criticism during an emergency Commons debate yesterday, returned to the UK from his overseas trip on Monday, after the fall of the Afghan capital, Kabul, to the Taliban.

According to the Daily Mail, the cabinet minister, who was said to be holidaying on the Greek island of Crete, was advised last Friday to urgently contact his counterpart in the Afghan government as the the militant group seized key cities of the country.

The newspaper claimed officials at the Foreign Office suggested he needed to request assistance from the then-foreign minister Hanif Atmar in aiding interpreters who had links to the British military forces.

However, officials were told Mr Raab was unavailable and did not make the call. Instead, it was requested that Lord Goldsmith — the on-duty Foreign Office minister — should speak to the Afghan minister.

The Afghan foreign ministry declined to set up an immediate call between Mr Atmar and the junior minister, however, and did not speak until at least the next day with crucial time lost, the Daily Mail added.

The Foreign Office did not immediately respond when contacted by The Independent, but a department source told the Daily Mail: “The foreign secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister”.

Seizing on the report, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the foreign secretary should be “ashamed”, warning: “The prime minister has serious questions to answer over why he remains in the job.”

She added: “What could possibly have been more important than safeguarding the legacy of two decades of sacrifice and hard-won victories in Afghanistan? 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.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “He couldn’t even make one phone call? Why is he still in the job this morning?”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, went further, saying:“Dominic 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. Dominic Raab wasn’t just asleep at the wheel. He was wilfully complacent and will go down as one of the worst foreign secretaries in history.”

Questioned on the report, however, the defence secretary Ben Wallace suggested on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice”.

“A phone call to an Afghan minister at that time would have not made a blind bit of difference,” the cabinet minister said.

“I do know for sure because last Friday what we were absolutely worried about and in turn were unsure about is whether the airport would remain open. That was at the front of everyone’s mind.

“Without a functioning airport we were going to get nobody out no matter how many phone calls you made to a disappearing government. I can tell you that for sure.”

Earlier this week Mr Raab claimed no one saw the swift Taliban takeover “coming” — admitting the government was caught “off-guard” — and suggested he would not have taken a holiday overseas in “retrospect”.

He insisted he was engaged in Cobra meetings virtually and speaking to foreign counterparts on an “hour-by-hour basis”, adding: “I left Afghanistan as the situation deteriorated and demanded it. We’ve been monitoring the situation in Afghanistan since the 2020 Doha agreement”.

“We didn’t predict we would be doing this on this scale because of the Taliban takeover, but look in retrospect of course I wouldn’t have gone on holiday if I had known.”

A British holidaymaker told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Raab was relaxing on a beach on the Greek island of Crete on the day the Afghan capital was seized. “It was definitely him,” the source told the newspaper.

“I’m not political and obviously accept everyone is allowed a holiday. But the foreign secretary shouldn’t be on the beach on the very day Afghanistan is imploding.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments