Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Downing Street, London 280520 CREDIT PA
Afghanistan

'Rapidly Deteriorating Situation' Stopped Call To Afghanistan, Raab Says

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said ministers have worked "tirelessly" over the last week to evacuate British nationals and Afghans.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Downing Street, London 280520 CREDIT PA

The Foreign Secretary has said it was the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan that had prevented a call being made to Afghan ministers while he was on holiday.

Dominic Raab defended the Government's handling of the Afghanistan crisis and his decision to not call his Afghan counterpart over evacuating UK nationals and translators who had been helping UK forces.

The Foreign Secretary has come under increasing pressure to resign after it was revealed he was on the Greek island of Crete as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

But Mr Raab said ministers have been "working tirelessly" over the last week to evacuate British nationals and Afghans, with the priority being keeping Kabul airport open.

His response came after it was reported that Foreign Office officials advised Mr Raab on 13 August to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who supported British troops.

Mr Raab delegated this to junior minister Lord Goldsmith – it later emerged that call had never been made.

Watch: Desperate scenes at Kabul airport as Afghans try to flee country.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Raab said: "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."

He added: "The Government's approach to prioritising 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."

Mr Raab's statement comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the latest in a series of COBRA meetings on Friday afternoon to discuss the crisis.

The Times reported that Sir Philip Barton, Matthew Rycroft and David Williams, the respective permanent secretaries of the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence, were on holiday amid the evacuations from Afghanistan.

Former Cabinet minister David Davis said it was "nonsense" that Mr Raab should consider his position after he was found to be on holiday in Crete as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

Watch: 'Anger, grief and rage' – veteran MP's emotional eight-minute Afghanistan speech.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Davis said that while there had clearly been failings in the handling of the crisis by the Government, they could not be directed at any one person and that having worked with Mr Raab he was a "workaholic" who would often pull 60-hour weeks.

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."

Others felt there was still more to do to stabilise the situation.

One senior Tory MP said the Government needed to put in place a single contact for the evacuation effort.

Another reportedly told the Guardian Mr Raab's position was untenable and that "not coming home was his biggest mistake".

But Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, said: "This is an anti-Raab witch hunt, and I don't like it."

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Cover image: Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Downing Street last May (Picture: PA).