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20 August 2021

How serious is the phone call that Dominic Raab never made?

The issue is not whether a call from the Foreign Secretary to an Afghan government on the brink of collapse would have made a difference – it is what it says about British complacency.

By Ailbhe Rea

Dominic Raab wakes up to day two of a storm over his failure to phone his Afghan counterpart to seek help for locally hired UK staff in Afghanistan as Taliban militants surrounded Kabul. Yesterday (19 August), the Foreign Secretary faced demands to resign from Labour, the other opposition parties and some anonymous Conservative MPs, after it was reported that the phone call was delegated to a junior minister. Now, it emerges that the call never happened at all. The Daily Mail front page today is emblazoned with “Bad Call, Minister”. 

The Raab case has become a lightning rod for wider political anger at how the UK government prepared (or didn’t) for the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan. Very few seriously believe that a phone call from Raab to an Afghan government on the brink of collapse would have made a difference. The problem is that it encapsulates a wider sense of a British government asleep at the wheel, amid suggestions from government sources in the Times that hundreds more Britons and Afghans could have been flown out of the country by now had the Foreign Office acted more swiftly.

That is what Raab’s immediate political future will hinge upon. Stories are already beginning to break about British delays to establishing a functioning visa processing system in Afghanistan, but the RAF substantially increased the number of people flown out of Kabul overnight (963). The question is whether evidence will emerge for the allegation that many more lives could have been saved if the Foreign Secretary had acted differently as the crisis began.

[see also: How the US and the UK accept far fewer Afghan refugees than other countries]

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