Foreign Office mandarin ‘not aware’ of any PM involvement in Nowzad evacuation

Sir Philip Barton said he was only aware of ‘speculation in the public domain’.

Geraldine Scott
Thursday 27 January 2022 00:01
(Ben Birchall/PA)
(Ben Birchall/PA)

The Foreign Office’s top civil servant has said he was not aware of support from Boris Johnson for the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan after leaked emails suggested the Prime Minister had “authorised” their rescue.

Mr Johnson has been accused of lying by Labour over how animals looked after by the charity Nowzad had made their way to the UK during the evacuation of Kabul last year.

In leaked emails to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, one Foreign Office official told colleagues working on the evacuation on August 25 that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”, in reference to Nowzad.

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

Mr Johnson denies he had any part in the UK armed forces rescue mission, Operation Pitting, or the evacuation of animals from the Taliban-captured territory.

In documents released by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Sir Philip Barton – the Foreign Office’s permanent-under secretary – said he was “not aware” of support for the decision to evacuate Nowzad either in No 10 or from the Prime Minister, or whether there was any reason staff would attribute the decision to the PM, “beyond speculation in the public domain”.

Asked whether Nigel Casey, the Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, had received any correspondence referring to the PM’s intervention, Sir Philip said: “No.”

But it comes after a leaked letter from Conservative MP Trudy Harrison who was then parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Mr Johnson, previously suggested the Prime Minister may have been involved as she wrote to former marine Pen Farthing, who runs Nowzad, informing him that he and his staff – amounting to 68 people – “would be provided a flight by the Royal Air Force as part of the evacuation programme”.

Last month, No 10 said Ms Harrison was acting in her capacity as a constituency MP, however, the letter’s signature included her title as the Prime Minister’s PPS.

But on Wednesday, Sky News reported that Ms Harrison had contacted a private charter company to try to secure a plane to help with the Nowzad evacuation, and a source at the company told Sky News it was implicit that she was acting with the Prime Minister’s backing.

Trudy Harrison outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Jack Taylor/PA)

Ms Harrison told the broadcaster she had contacted companies, and had told staff she was a PPS to Mr Johnson, but that she was acting as a constituency MP and the Prime Minister was not involved in plans around the evacuation.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting, including Nowzad staff and animals.

“At no point did the Prime Minister instruct staff to take any particular course of action on Nowzad.”

Mr Farthing launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out of Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul, using a plane funded through donations.

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

Dominic Dyer, who led the political lobbying campaign from the UK for Nowzad to be offered support, has maintained the Prime Minister was involved.

He told Sky News: “I know Trudy Harrison, the PPS to the Prime Minister that was helping us on the campaign team, reached out to the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, and we were just looking at different options that were available to us.”

He told the PA news agency: “I’m not certain why he (the Prime Minister) didn’t feel he could explain his involvement in August at the end of this operation.

“It has tarnished what has been a very important operation that had huge public support.”

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