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24 May 2022

The Afghanistan evacuation was another scandalous failure by Boris Johnson

A spectacularly damning new report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee cuts through the Prime Minister’s lies.

By Martin Fletcher

As the latest partygate photographs, and Sue Gray’s imminent report on the scandal, dominate the news, let us not overlook another breathtaking example of the incompetence and dishonesty of Boris Johnson’s government: last August’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister sought to portray it at the time as something not far short of a triumph for “Global Britain”. The evacuation of more than 15,000 people whose lives were endangered by the Taliban’s capture of Kabul was “heroic” and “colossal”, he said. It was “one of the outstanding military achievements of the last 50 years”.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, which has a Conservative majority and a Conservative chairman, Tom Tugendhat, begs to differ. “The manner of our withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster and a betrayal of our allies that will damage the UK’s interests for years to come,” it says in a spectacularly damning report published today (24 May).

Despite knowing for 18 months that an evacuation might be necessary, the government “failed adequately to shape or respond to Washington’s decision to withdraw, to predict the speed of the Taliban’s takeover, and prepare for the evacuation of our Afghan partners”. Those partners, and the many officials and soldiers who sought to manage the evacuation on the ground, were “utterly let down by deep failures of leadership in government”.

Let us home in on one specific allegation made at the time, namely that Johnson, at the request of his animal-loving wife, ordered that the evacuation of more than 160 dogs and cats cared for by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine, be given priority over that of humans.

Johnson flatly denied making such an order. He dismissed the charges as “total rhubarb” even after incriminating emails surfaced. One said that Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary at the time, was “seeking a steer from No 10” on whether to prioritise Farthing’s menagerie. In another Nigel Casey, the Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, asked Stephen Lovegrove, Johnson’s National Security Adviser, “to seek clear guidance from No 10 asap on what they would like us to do”. In a third, a Foreign Official official told colleagues that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

The committee notes that the animals’ evacuation on a 230-seat private aircraft (with Farthing the only human passenger) “absorbed significant government resources in the midst of the biggest military airlift in decades”, but the MPs sought in vain to discover who authorised it.

The report states that Johnson and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, both denied issuing the order. Lovegrove “did not remember” whom he had consulted in No 10. Six times the committee asked Casey and Philip Barton, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, whether they had been instructed to help Farthing, but “they evaded the question each time” and were unable to find relevant emails.

The committee concludes that “we repeatedly received answers that appeared calculated to mislead or to evade our questions”, and adds pointedly: “Multiple senior officials believe the Prime Minister played a role in this decision. We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation.”

There you have it: the sort of calculated obfuscation, shameless buck-passing and rank dishonesty with which Johnson has so thoroughly corrupted his government — and which Gray will hopefully lay bare for the world to see in her partygate report.

[See also: Afghanistan Withdrawal: the best of The New Statesman’s articles]

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