Dominic Raab ‘persuaded PM he could stay on holiday’ in Afghanistan crisis

Report raises further questions over foreign secretary as Tory ex-minister says UK should have stood up to US over withdrawal

A former defence minister has said the UK failed to “stand up” to the US over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, amid more questions about Dominic Raab’s holiday-induced absence last weekend.

Raab, the foreign secretary, has faced repeated demands to resign for remaining until Monday on a family holiday in Crete while the Afghan government collapsed, and delegating tasks to junior ministers.

The Sunday Times reported that Raab had been told on the Friday that he should return to the UK, but that he persuaded Boris Johnson he could stay in Crete for two more days. According to the report, officials felt that Raab “nobbled” the prime minister into agreeing.

The same report said another Foreign Office minister, Lord Ahmad, whose role covers south Asia, was also away until last Sunday on a holiday in the UK.

Amid continuing recriminations over both the lack of apparent preparation for the Taliban surge after US and UK troops were withdrawn, and chaotic scenes at Kabul’s airport, where more deaths were reported in a crush on Sunday, a senior Tory MP said ministers should have done more to put pressure on the US.

Tobias Ellwood, a former defence and Foreign Office minister who now chairs the defence select committee, said there was a lack of apparent cohesion between the UK and US.

“Why is it that we didn’t stand up and tell the United States, if you want to get Afghans out – you have a duty of care for these people who will be pursued by the Taliban – you don’t get your military out first, you get the civilians out, then you retreat yourselves?” he told Times Radio. “We’ve done it the other way round.”

Ellwood said the US needed to extend its deadline of the end of the month to remove its last forces if people were to be evacuated.

He said: “I worry about two scenarios which could unfold. Firstly, an isolated incident; an exchange of fire between rogue Taliban and a US or UK soldier that escalates and immediately the US commander says, right, we’ve got to get out of here and presses the exit button.

“Secondly, we’ll reach a terminal point when we have to close the gate and no more Afghans can be processed, and we start to have to withdraw ourselves.”

Asked by Sky News about Raab’s extended holiday, the armed forces minister James Heappey declined to comment, saying: “The only set of travel plans I care about right now are the travel plans of the thousands of people who were trying to get out [of Afghanistan].”

Heappey said 1,721 people had been evacuated from Kabul by the Royal Air Force in the previous 24 hours, with the number increasing.

“Now, that could change,” he added. “The crowds could swell again and everything could become as desperate as you saw yesterday, but for as long as that is not the case, as long as the marshalling continues to be as it is today, we will be able to process people in good volumes and that will allow us to ensure that the absolute minimum number of people are left behind, if any at all.”

While Raab has been the focus of much of the criticism connected to the UK response, notably his decision to delegate to a junior minister a phone call to his Afghan counterpart to discuss evacuations, there is also growing anger at the role of the US.

According to the Sunday Times, citing anonymous Downing Street sources, Johnson had been critical to aides about the US president, Joe Biden, and had said, “only half-jokingly”, that the UK would have been better off if Donald Trump had won last year’s election.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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