Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has defended his handling of the Afghanistan crisis, saying that a now controversial phone call to his Afghan counterpart had been prevented by the “rapidly deteriorating situation.”
Raab has come under pressure from the Labour party after it emerged that he was on holiday in Crete before and during the fall of Kabul. Specifically, he has been criticised for delegating out a phone call requested urgently by the Afghan foreign minister to discuss rescuing translators.
The Foreign Office said that Raab was able to handle priority issues from his vacation.
Initially, the Foreign Office said that the foreign secretary had other calls which were higher in priority, so it was delegated to other staff.
The Foreign Office now says that the call was never made.
Until now, Raab had remained silent on the issue, other than to respond with a “no” to the question of whether he would resign.
In a statement on Aug. 19, Raab said: “On Friday afternoon, 13 August, advice was put to my Private Office (around 6 p.m. Afghan time) recommending a call to the Afghan Foreign Minister.
“This was quickly overtaken by events. The call was delegated to a Minister of State because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director general overseeing the crisis response.
“In any event, the Afghan Foreign Minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
Raab said that the government had been working “tirelessly” to help with the evacuation. “As a result, 204 UK nationals and their families, Afghan staff, and other countries citizens were evacuated on the morning of Monday 16 August,” he said. “Since then, 1,635 have been evacuated.”
Labour has previously said there was an “unforgiveable failure of leadership” from Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson and set out a list of 18 urgent questions for the Foreign Secretary to answer about his holiday and his department’s handling of the crisis.
Raab returned to the UK on Aug. 16, the day after the fall of Kabul.
Labour, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said, “For the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to be on holiday during the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation is an unforgivable failure of leadership.”
Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru have all called for Raab to either quit or be sacked by the Prime Minister.
Labour said it is requesting specifics on when Raab was out of the country and on leave from official duties, if he received advice from officials on the advisability of leaving as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, if he attended a Cobra meeting on August 15, and if other ministers were authorised to approve those intelligence operations designated urgent in his absence.
PA contributed to this report