Dominic Raab accused of ‘going AWOL’ on holiday as Afghanistan falls to Taliban

Defence secretary says he ‘genuinely didn’t know’ foreign secretary was vacationing in Cyprus

Adam Forrest
Monday 16 August 2021 15:14
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Defence secretary ‘didn’t know’ where foreign secretary was during Afghanistan crisis

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has been accused of “going AWOL” after spending the past week on holiday abroad while the situation in Afghanistan was unravelling.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said Mr Raab was returning to the UK on Sunday and was “personally overseeing” the department's response to the crisis.

However, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “For the foreign secretary to go AWOL during an international crisis of this magnitude is nothing short of shameful,” Ms Nandy said.

Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Raab should have returned sooner from his holiday in Cyprus, and described the speed of the government’s response to the situation in Afghanistan as “slow pace”.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Labour leader said: “You can sense across all political parties, including Conservative MPs who are deeply unhappy at what appears to be the slow pace of response from the prime minister and the foreign secretary.”

The Lib Dems called on Mr Raab – who attended an emergency Cobra meeting with Mr Johnson on Monday – to come out of hiding” and update the nation on plans to evacuate Britons and their Afghan allies.

Layla Moran MP said: “Dominic Raab’s silence is deafening and an insult to all those who have loved ones still in Afghanistan. The foreign secretary must come out of hiding to address the country and hold a press conference in the next 24 hours.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace admitted earlier on Monday that he “genuinely didn’t know” where Mr Raab was as the Taliban swept back into power.

Told by Sky News host Kay Burley that the foreign secretary had been on holiday in Cyprus, Mr Wallace said: “I don’t know my colleagues personal movements, but I’ve spoken to him everyday.”

The defence minister added: “I had no problem speaking to the foreign secretary, nor did the prime minister, nor anyone else engaging with the Foreign Office. I have not been aware of any drop in service or inability to deliver. The whole of government has been tasked on this.”

Former Nato general secretary Lord Robertson was “amazing” and “staggering” that the foreign secretary was on holiday as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. “You’ve got to be on duty during that sort of period where we are so deeply and intimately involved in it,” he said.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, was also scathing when asked about the FCDO's likely response to the collapse of the Afghan government.

“I don’t know what is in the works because we haven't heard from the foreign secretary in about a week, despite this being the biggest single policy disaster since Suez,” he told BBC News.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, said Mr Raab should “absolutely” have returned to work before Sunday. “This is the biggest military challenge in a generation. Everybody should be working their hardest to make sure Britons are safe.”

The Tory MP said the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was the “biggest foreign policy failure in a generation,” adding that UK foreign policy had been “missing in action”.

Mr Ellwood, a former British Army captain, tweeted: “Chaotic exodus from Kabul airport. Apaches used to clear the runway. If this is not Saigon 2.0 I don’t know what is. Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry.”

The defence secretary said the military side of Kabul airport was “secure” and that government was doing everything it could to evacuate up to 1,500 British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain in the next 24 to 36 hours.

MPs will be called back from their summer break to Westminster to discuss the worsening crisis. Parliament will be recalled for one day on Wednesday to debate the government’s response.

An FCDO spokesman said: “The foreign secretary is personally overseeing the FCDO response and engaging with international partners. He is returning to the UK today, given the situation.”

Mr Raab meanwhile tweeted that he had been sharing his “deep concerns” about the situation in Afghanistan with Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

He said they had agreed it was critical that "the international community is united in telling the Taliban that the violence must end and human rights must be protected".

Meanwhile, Lord Ricketts, the former National Security Adviser, predicted that the Taliban will not “make the mistake of allowing al-Qaeda to re-establish themselves in Afghanistan” and that terrorism in the UK is not “an immediate concern in terms of Afghanistan”.

Both Boris Johnson and his defence secretary have made clear British troops would not be returning to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Mr Wallace said on Monday: “That’s not on the cards – we’re going to go back.”

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