Boris Johnson accused of lying as emails suggest he approved Afghan dog rescue

PM called claims he intervened to help evacuation of animal charity ‘complete nonsense’

Boris Johnson’s battered credibility was thrown further into question after new Foreign Office emails appeared to contradict his insistence he did not authorise the rescue of cats and dogs from a British charity in Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul.

The release of two emails by the cross-party foreign affairs select committee prompted claims the prime minister had lied, as he faces separate accusations about misleading parliament over the Downing Street parties scandal and awaits the emergence of Sue Gray’s inquiry.

The first email, from a Foreign Office official working in the private office of peer Zac Goldsmith, is dated 12.20pm, 25 August, and lobbies a colleague to help a second animal charity because the prime minister had recently agreed to the airlift of staff and animals from the Nowzad charity, run by the Briton Pen Farthing.

“Equivalent charity Nowzad, run by an ex-Royal Marine, has received a lot of publicity and the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated,” the official working for Lord Goldsmith wrote to another official responsible for collating exceptional cases for potential rescue after the Taliban takeover.

A second email, sent between Foreign Office officials in the afternoon that day, repeats the point. “In light of the PM’s decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity, the [animal charity – name redacted] is asking for agreement to the entry of [details redacted] staff, all Afghan nationals.”

Extract from FCDO emails released minutes ago by the foreign affairs ctte indicate PM *did* order the rescue of Pen Farthing's animals from Kabul - despite crisis on the ground and subsequent denials

Extract first - header of email thereafter

— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) January 26, 2022

Clearer email, this time from FCDO official in the private office of Zac Goldsmith, making the same point. PM authorised the controversial "pets before people" evacuation. Dated Aug 25 2021

— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) January 26, 2022

Yet, despite the fresh disclosures, Downing Street said its position was unchanged. A statement read: “The PM had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting, including Nowzad staff and animals. At no point did the PM instruct staff to take any particular course of action on Nowzad.”

Overnight on Wednesday the committee also released a further denial from Sir Philip Barton, the permanent secretary of the Foreign Office. Asked if he had “any reason to believe” Johnson was behind the rescue decision or that officials had attributed it to him, the civil servant said: “I am not aware of that beyond speculation in the public domain”.

Claims that Johnson had intervened to allow the airlift of Farthing have been aired for months, after the previously hostile defence secretary, Ben Wallace, suddenly announced he had changed his mind, in a tweet put out at 1.33am on 25 August. But they have been denied by Johnson himself, Downing St and Wallace.

In December, Johnson dismissed the suggestion that he had intervened as “complete nonsense” in a television interview. The same day Downing Street added: “At no point did the prime minister intervene. We have always prioritised people over animals.”

Labour said the emails showed Johnson had not told the truth. John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said: “Once again, the prime minister has been caught out lying about what he has been doing and deciding. He should never have given priority to flying animals out of Afghanistan while Afghans who worked for our armed forces were left behind.”

A government source added the statements in the messages did not reflect the true position. “You have an email which says, here is an instruction from the PM. That doesn’t mean it’s true: it shows that was what those officials thought was happening.”

Wallace also reiterated a denial he had given to MPs on the foreign affairs committee a day earlier. “At no point were he or I directed by the prime minister to evacuate Pen Farthing, his workforce or his pets,” the defence secretary said. “We were not going to put pets before people,” he added.

The emails were supplied by whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a former civil servant who had lifted the lid on the Foreign Office’s chaotic handling of the crisis in stark written evidence to the committee in December.

The second email, sent at 5.42pm on 25 August, was from a Foreign Office official working in the crisis rescue team. It makes clear that officials would not have considered “vets working for an animal charity” as “extremely vulnerable”, and hence a priority for evacuation, until the prime minister got involved.

Thousands were stranded at or near Kabul airport as the western evacuation was entering its final days but allies of Farthing, led by campaigner Dominic Dyer, had been lobbying key figures, including the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, Goldsmith and Boris Johnson’s parliamentary aide Trudy Harrison for help.

In a case that divided public opinion in the UK, supporters of Farthing had raised money for a private plane but needed permission to land.

Dyer said he felt vindicated and believes Johnson should acknowledge he helped. “I find it difficult to understand why the prime minister has refused to admit any involvement in this humanitarian rescue mission that had huge public support,” he said.

Farthing and more than 150 cats and dogs were eventually rescued in one of the last flights out of Kabul on a charter plane, but last-minute delays at the airport meant more than 60 staff at the Nowzad charity and dependants had to cross the border to Pakistan before they could come to the UK.

In his evidence to the committee, Farthing said that no UK military capacity was used. “Our good name should not be used for cheap political point-scoring or to detract from the horrific failings of consecutive British governments to look after those Afghans who worked as interpreters or aided the military whilst we operated in Afghanistan,” the former marine wrote.

Since the end of the evacuation, human rights groups and journalists have documented dozens of targeted killings in Afghanistan. Many victims had asked for help to leave the country, or were in hiding hoping for rescue, including a women’s rights activist, female police officers plus dozens linked to the former security forces.

But in the same period one Kabul-based animal shelter, which had been seeking to evacuate staff and animals at the same time as Nowzad, has been able to continue operations.


Dan Sabbagh, Heather Stewart and Emma Graham-Harrison

The GuardianTramp

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