Mr Raab is under intense pressure as a result of the apparent confusion, which resulted in the call being taken by a junior minister instead, especially as it has been revealed the Foreign Secretary was on holiday in Crete when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
In a statement issed today, the Foreign Secretary said the whole of Government had been working “tirelessly” to evacuate as many people as possible from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover, which has seen President Ashraf Ghani flee the country.
He added: “The UK Government’s overriding priority has been to secure Kabul airport so that flights can leave.
“On Friday afternoon, 13 August, advice was put to my Private Office (around 6pm Afghan time) recommending a call to the Afghan Foreign Minister.”
Mr Raab added: “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.”
Mr Raab added: “The Government’s approach to prioritise security at the airport was the right one.
“As a result, 204 UK nationals and their families, Afghan staff and other countries citizens were evacuated on the morning of Monday 16 August.
“Since then, 1,635 have been evacuated. I pay tribute to the excellent team we have in place, and we continue to prioritise what is required to evacuate people to the UK safely.”
Prior to Mr Raab’s statement, Labour said it was requesting specifics on when Mr 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.
The party also questioned the Prime Minister’s involvement, asking Mr Raab if he spoke with Mr Johnson while he was away, and if the PM gave permission for him to leave the country.
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.”
However, Tory MP David Davis sprang to Mr Raab’s defence.
The former Brexit Secretary said: “I used to be a minister of state at the Foreign Office in August, and I talked to all sorts of people – the president of Colombia on one occasion to organise a hostage rescue, so this is a sort of nonsense.”
He added: “Last Friday, nobody in the House of Commons, or anywhere in Fleet Street or anywhere, or indeed, in the organisation of the Taliban knew that they would have, by Sunday, taken Kabul. Nobody.”
He added: “The Americans were saying it could happen in 30 days, our own intelligence said similar. So the idea that somebody should rush back from a holiday – frankly, a workaholic minister, which is what he is – is sort of daft, really, it’s worse than 20:20 hindsight.
“The Government’s not had a good week, let’s be clear about this, in terms of the handling of this crisis, and it looks like somebody is trying to scapegoat one member of Government.”
(More to follow)
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