Dominic Raab faces mounting pressure to step down, including from some MPs from his own party, after claiming he was indeed missing for more than a week while on vacation during the collapse of Afghanistan, delegating almost all tasks to the juniors.
Raab’s department did not deny asking another minister to make a call on Friday to help with the evacuation of former British military translators while in Crete. Labor, Liberal Democrats and the SNP have called on Boris Johnson to sack his foreign secretary if he does not decide to resign.
Some Tory MPs have said privately that they agree, with one saying the Guardian Raab’s position is now “untenable”.
Raab is quickly becoming a focal point for wider political anger over the humiliating Taliban retreat after 20 years of military service and 457 deaths in the UK, concerns over his department’s apparent lack of foresight exacerbated by his role apparently semi-detached.
A Whitehall source confirmed a Daily Mail report that while Raab was on vacation in Crete on Friday, a week after his arrival, Foreign Ministry officials advised him to speak by phone to his Afghan counterpart, Hanif Atmar , to ask for help with referring translators. who had worked with the British Army.
They were told that Raab was not available and that a junior minister, Zac Goldsmith, a Tory peer, should make the call instead. Because Lord Goldsmith was not the direct equivalent of Atmar, there was a day delay. The newspaper has now reported that the call never even took place.
The source told The Guardian Raab “refused to be contacted on virtually anything” for more than a week, and instead indicated that “everything had to go to Goldsmith”. They added that Raab’s team had told officials “there was an incredibly high bar for him to watch anything while on vacation.”
A separate diplomatic source also said there had been growing frustration over Raab’s lack of support in the weeks leading up to the fall of Kabul.
They said Raab had not spoken to any of the main British ambassadors in the region, such as Pakistan or Uzbekistan, or regional ambassadors in London before the weekend – even to offer moral support – and commented: ” You don’t need a team of staff to do this, you just need to be a decent human being to say, “How are you? It’s gonna be a tough few weeks, how can I help? ‘ The source added, “He completely missed the boat on everything. “
A Tory MP said Raab’s position was untenable and that ‘not coming home was his biggest mistake’ – he would not have arrived in the UK until the early hours of Monday morning, a position supported by d other backbenchers.
Other Tory MPs said Raab had been “dull” and still had “big questions to answer about what he knew when”. One of them said he feared Raab’s actions might play a role in Labor criticism of ministers’ incompetence, saying it was starting to be felt with voters.
But another MP said: ‘There is no pressure on him unless there is clear evidence that Afghans linked to the UK are being killed as a result of inaction. “
Downing Street made no comment, beyond officials confirming Johnson still had faith in Raab.
Labor – which says it has had no contact with Raab since the start of the Afghan crisis, unlike Defense Secretary Ben Wallace – on Thursday called on Raab to resign or be sacked. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said he “should be ashamed of himself”. The Lib Dems and the SNP also demanded that he leave.
Margaret Beckett, who was foreign minister under Tony Blair, said it was unheard of for a foreign minister to refuse to make a call.
“I am always reluctant to get involved in the management of the departments, but if it is true that the foreign ministry has asked the foreign minister to intervene with the Afghan foreign minister, then this is the case. one of the most amazing things I have had. never heard, that on behalf of the people to whom we owe a debt of honor, he thought that this could be delegated to a subordinate minister, ”she declared.
“The only thing a foreign minister can bring to his job is the relationship he has with other foreign ministers. No one can substitute, no matter how much you think of expert officials or juniors. “
Harriet Harman of the Labor Party said the government should listen to women in Afghanistan rather than letting Raab “just talk to other male leaders”. She said he should appoint a minister responsible for liaison with Afghan women and that women should be included in all future negotiations with the Taliban.
Another critic was Major General Charlie Herbert, who made three tours of Afghanistan and served as NATO’s senior adviser in Kabul. He said it was “disappointing that the Foreign Minister did not show the same level of determination to save our vulnerable Afghan interpreters and staff as that displayed by his courageous Ambassador and embassy staff in Kabul ”.
Wallace vigorously defended Raab on Thursday, although the defense secretary privately criticized Raab’s department for its handling of the Afghan crisis.
Wallace told the BBC that on Friday the Afghan government “was melting faster than ice”, adding: “A phone call to an Afghan minister at that time would have made no difference.”
Asked if he could be sure of that, Wallace said, “I know for sure, because last Friday what we were absolutely worried and unsure of was whether the airport would remain open. You can speculate whether or not the phone call should have been made, but it wouldn’t have made a blind difference.
Raab chaired a virtual meeting of G7 foreign ministers on Thursday, saying in a subsequent statement that the discussion covered “the gravity of the situation and the significant loss of life and internal displacement in Afghanistan in recent days.”
He “underlined the importance of maintaining the Taliban in their commitments to ensure the protection of civilians and is deeply concerned at reports of violent reprisals in parts of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the G7 “continue its efforts to do everything possible to evacuate vulnerable people from Kabul airport and call on all parties to continue to facilitate this”.