Dominic Raab has confirmed he delegated a phone call with the Afghan foreign minister to a junior, and argued that it was the correct thing to do, in his first statement on events that have prompted widespread calls for him to be sacked.
In a brief statement, the foreign secretary said that last Friday while he was on a family holiday in Crete, his private office was advised to call his Afghan counterpart, Hanif Atmar, but instead this was done by a junior minister.
Raab said the need for the call was “quickly overtaken by events”, and on the advice of officials he had been prioritising the issues of security at Kabul airport, where British nationals and Afghans who worked with UK forces were being evacuated.
Raab did not explain in the statement why he chose to continue this work from Crete. He was seen on the beach on Sunday and did not return to the UK until the early hours of Monday, after the Taliban had overrun Kabul.
Raab said he was “responding to the inaccurate media reporting over recent days”. However, the statement appears to largely confirm what has been reported since the Daily Mail first said on Wednesday that he had delegated the call.
Raab has faced calls to resign or be sacked from some Tory MPs, as well as Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. The anger has been focused on his decision to remain in Crete and to not call Atmar in connection with plans to evacuate Afghan translators who worked with UK forces.
The decision to ask the junior minister Zac Goldsmith, a Tory peer, to step in reportedly delayed the call, and the Mail said on Friday the discussion ended up never happening. In his statement, Raab said this was due to the imminent collapse of the Afghan government.
“On Friday afternoon, 13 August, advice was put to my private office (around 6pm Afghan time) recommending a call to the Afghan foreign minister,” Raab wrote in the statement. “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.”
The decision “to prioritise security at the airport was the right one”, Raab argued, saying that so far 1,635 UK nationals and their families, Afghan staff and citizens of other countries had been evacuated by the UK.
He added: “The whole of government has been working tirelessly over the last week to help as many people evacuate from Afghanistan as possible. The UK government’s overriding priority has been to secure Kabul airport so that flights can leave.”