Fresh pressure on Dominic Raab amid claims civil servants are away amid Afghan chaos

Boris Johnson insisted he ‘absolutely’ has full confidence in Dominic Raab tonight despite fresh anger that he was holidaying while Kabul burned.

The PM shrugged off demands for the Foreign Secretary to resign after delegating a junior minister to make a crucial call to his Afghan counterpart last week.

Mr Raab, who was at a luxury resort in Crete, said he had been busy ‘prioritising security’ at Kabul airport, arguing that the reason the call never happened was the ‘rapidly deteriorating situation’ that saw the government collapse.   

Meanwhile, the impression of a ghost ship at Westminster while the dramatic events play out was reinforced as the senior mandarins at the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Home Office have also been on leave.

Mr Johnson himself started a holiday in Somerset on Saturday, although he cut it short when the scale of the meltdown in Afghanistan became clear.

Tories have joined a ferocious backlash against Mr Raab over his failure to take time to help the plight of staff who worked for British forces. However, there has been a concerted effort to shore him up today with a series of MPs condemning the ‘witchhunt’ against him.

Other senior Conservatives told MailOnline that Mr Johnson has been privately indicating that a reshuffle is unlikely for the next six months. There are claims that Mr Raab also enjoys the support of Carrie Johnson. ‘I don’t think he is in any immediate danger, not least because Boris knows if you have too many ex-ministers throwing their weight around it becomes a problem,’ one MP said.

The Mail revealed yesterday that Mr Raab had been advised by officials to contact his Afghan counterpart urgently on Friday. However, he delegated the task to junior minister Lord Goldsmith, with the department insisting he was engaged on other calls. 

It was thought the telephone conversation had then taken place the following day – but the Foreign Office has now conceded it never happened as the Afghan regime collapsed.  

The revelation will intensify the pressure on Mr Raab, who has been posing for a series of photographs at his desk in an unsubtle attempt to show he has a grip on the situation.

In other developments today:

  • The PM is set to chair another Cobra meeting this afternoon to consider the state of play in the Afghanistan response; 
  • Ministers have revealed 963 Britons, Afghan allies and families were flown out of Kabul yesterday as the pace of the airlift increases, despite pictures showing some flights almost empty; 
  • A former MI5 chief has warned the West faces an ‘increased threat’ of terrorism after the collapse of Afghanistan
  • The Taliban have started to display their true colours with reports of beatings and female presenters being banned from TV.  

Dominic Raab's job was hanging by a thread last night as it emerged the crucial phone call that was delegated to a junior minister never took place

Dominic Raab's job was hanging by a thread last night as it emerged the crucial phone call that was delegated to a junior minister never took place

Mr Raab in Whitehall today

Mr Raab in Whitehall today

Dominic Raab’s job was hanging by a thread last night as it emerged the crucial phone call that was delegated to a junior minister never took place. Pictured left, a photo of Mr Raab at his desk last night and right in Whitehall today

Boris Johnson (pictured talking to Afghans who have relocated to the UK at Downing Street today) insisted he 'absolutely' has full confidence in Dominic Raab despite fresh anger that he was holidaying while Kabul burned

Boris Johnson (pictured talking to Afghans who have relocated to the UK at Downing Street today) insisted he 'absolutely' has full confidence in Dominic Raab despite fresh anger that he was holidaying while Kabul burned

Boris Johnson (pictured talking to Afghans who have relocated to the UK at Downing Street today) insisted he ‘absolutely’ has full confidence in Dominic Raab despite fresh anger that he was holidaying while Kabul burned

Man of action: A British soldier is seen carrying an Afghan child in Kabul

Man of action: A British soldier is seen carrying an Afghan child in Kabul

Man of action: A British soldier is seen carrying an Afghan child in Kabul 

Foreign Office: Sir Philip Barton

Foreign Office: Sir Philip Barton

Defence Ministry: David Williams

Defence Ministry: David Williams

Left, Foreign Office: Sir Philip Barton. Right, Defence Ministry: David Williams

Home Office: Matthew Rycroft

Home Office: Matthew Rycroft

Home Office: Matthew Rycroft

West faces ‘increased threat’ after Afghanistan failure, says ex-MI5 chief

The West faces an ‘increased threat’ after the collapse of Afghanistan, the former head of MI5 warned today.

Lord Jonathan Evans said the success of the Taliban will give al Qaida ‘more operating space’ and a ‘psychological’ boost for other terrorists.

He also criticised the ‘overambitious’ goals of the Afghanistan campaign, saying the ‘significant failure’ might have been avoided if the focus was on keeping extremism in check. 

The stark assessment came as the UK and US scramble to evacuate citizens and local allies from Kabul, with a blame game in full swing over the humiliating outcome.

Lord Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think there are two problems – I think there is more operating space more likely to be available to groups like al Qaida, and there have been reports of Islamic State elements present in Afghanistan.

‘If they get the opportunity to put down infrastructure to train and to operate then that will pose a threat to the West more widely.

‘There’s also the psychological effect of the inspiration that some people will draw from the failure of Western power in Afghanistan.

‘That may well create a certain amount of energy in the wider networks that are still in existence in Britain and across the West.

‘So, I think, in practical terms and in terms of ungoverned space, but also in psychological terms, it probably does mean an increase in threat over the coming months and years.’ 

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Afghans who risked their lives by working as translators alongside British soldiers accused the Foreign Secretary of a ‘betrayal’ and warned that his failure to get urgent assistance could cost lives.

Angry Conservative MPs accused Mr Raab for being ‘asleep at the wheel’ and of lacking commitment to the job, with one Tory peer saying he should reflect on his future. Opposition parties meanwhile, said Mr Raab was guilty of a ‘dereliction of duty’ and called for him to be sacked.

Afghan translator Rafi Hottak, who was injured while alongside soldiers in Helmand, was among those to tell of his fury last night, saying: ‘It is a betrayal.

‘The priority should have been British citizens and those Afghans who helped them. They are trapped in chaos now and in the days and hours before the Taliban arrived anything that could have been done should have been done.’

And one angry Tory MP said: ‘Raab was asleep at the wheel. Backbench MPs are absolutely livid about his ‘not my problem guv’ attitude, as if it was not his responsibility. It has really riled up colleagues. The issue is not that he was on holiday, it is that he seemed to be unaware of what was happening.’

A leaked United Nations report has warned the Taliban are now plotting murderous revenge against those Afghans who had worked with the West. 

The head of the group providing intelligence to the UN warned the Taliban were carrying out a highly-organised door-to-door hunt for people on their wanted list.

There were also scenes of chaos at Kabul airport where panicked US troops opened fire to try to restore order. Many translators are trapped in the Afghan capital and cannot make it through the crowds and the Taliban checkpoints to reach an evacuation flight.

The heads of the three departments running the Afghanistan reponse have all been away on holiday as the crisis erupted, although they are thought to be in the UK. 

Sir Philip Barton, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, has been away on away on annual leave within the UK over the period when the crisis has unfolded. A department spokesman said: ‘The permanent secretary has remained closely involved throughout.’

Sir Philip is said to have been in regular contact with Mr Raab and involved in key decisions.

Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and David Williams, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, have also been away. 

A Government spokeswoman said: ‘Departments across Whitehall have been working intensively at all levels in the last few days and weeks on the situation in Afghanistan.

‘Thanks to these efforts, we have relocated over 2,000 Afghans to the UK since June, evacuated over 400 British nationals and their families on RAF flights since Sunday and established one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history.’

Sources insisted there are ‘tried and tested systems’ in place for managing when senior officials are away on holiday.  

A Ministry of Defence source insisted Mr Williams’s absence had no impact because Laurence Lee, the second permanent secretary, was at work.

Mr Johnson has paused his holiday until at least next week as he grapples with the fallout from the Taliban takeover. 

Defence minister James Heappey today tried to bolster Mr Raab’s position, amid speculation that he could be moved in a reshuffle that many expect in the coming months.

In a round of interviews, Mr Heappey said handling of the situation in Afghanistan would not have changed what happened.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The reality is no one phone call would have changed the trajectory of either the speed of collapse of the Afghan government nor the speed of which we’ve been able to get the airlift up-and-running.

‘I understand why this is of interest to the media at the moment but I think, frankly, my focus and the focus of my colleagues around Government right now is in making sure we can extract as many people as possible from Kabul.

‘I don’t know why the call wasn’t made, I don’t know the detail of who should have made the call and who shouldn’t have done, but I am certain that by the time it was recommended the call should have been made, the trajectory was set.’

Mr Heappey added: ‘What matters is by the back end of last week long-standing plans of evacuation from Kabul which have been in existence for a long time – the execution of the plan was under way.’

The Mail revealed yesterday that senior officials advised last Friday afternoon that Mr Raab should make immediate contact with Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar as the Taliban advanced on Kabul. 

The officials said Mr Raab needed to urgently request assistance in rescuing interpreters who worked for the British military. They said it was important the call was made by him personally.

But the Cabinet minister failed to make the call and it was delegated to Lord Goldsmith, the junior minister. However, the Afghan foreign ministry refused to set up a call with someone who was not their minister’s direct counterpart and it was delayed.

Initially, it was thought the call had taken place on Saturday or Sunday as Kabul fell. But last night, the Foreign Office admitted it never took place. A spokesman said: ‘Given the rapidly changing situation it was not possible to arrange a call before the Afghan government collapsed.’

Asked if he was going to resign as Foreign Secretary, Mr Raab yesterday told reporters in Downing Street: ‘No.’ But the Prime Minister was warned the mood was ‘very hostile’ towards Mr Raab on the backbenches.

One party grandee said: ‘He has been lacklustre. He does not fit in the Foreign Office, there needs to be a shake-up.’

Opposition MPs accused him of failing to ‘perform his basic duties’ and argued he is ‘no longer fit’ to represent the country.   

And three top Whitehall mandarins are ALL on holiday as crisis grows 

The top civil servants in government departments dealing with Afghanistan evacuation have been on holiday during the crisis.

In the wake of the row over Dominic Raab’s response, it emerged that the senior officials at the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence are all away. They are thought to be having ‘staycations’ in the UK.

Sir Philip Barton, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, has been away on away on annual leave within the UK over the period when the crisis has unfolded. A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘The permanent secretary has remained closely involved throughout.’

Sir Philip is said to have been in regular contact with Mr Raab and had involvement in key decisions.

Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and David Williams, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, have also been away. 

A Government spokeswoman said: ‘Departments across Whitehall have been working intensively at all levels in the last few days and weeks on the situation in Afghanistan.

‘Thanks to these efforts, we have relocated over 2,000 Afghans to the UK since June, evacuated over 400 British nationals and their families on RAF flights since Sunday and established one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history.’

Sources insisted there are ‘tried and tested systems’ in place for managing when senior officials are away on holiday. 

Boris Johnson started a break in Somerset on Saturday, but has paused his holiday until at least next week as he grapples with the fallout from the collapse of the Afghan regime at the hands of the Taliban. 

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Dominic Raab is under fire as Whitehall sources say he reads as little as 20% of his ministerial briefings

Dominic Raab faced a string of damaging claims about his commitment to the job last night.

Officials accused the embattled Foreign Secretary of ‘appalling negligence’ amid toxic claims about an alleged failure to keep on top of his brief.

In the days leading up to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, he allegedly ‘refused to be contacted’ about some government business while on his Crete holiday.

And Foreign Office officials yesterday told the Mail that his failure to engage as the crisis mounted was indicative of his attitude in recent months.

One insider said for the past year it was like Mr Raab had ‘completely checked out’. ‘How can you be bored of being the British Foreign Secretary?’ they asked. Mr Raab, who as First Secretary of State is Boris Johnson’s deputy, was also accused of not being on top of his ministerial papers.

Taliban fighters flying their flag drive through the centre of Kabul as they try to maintain security in the capital

Taliban fighters flying their flag drive through the centre of Kabul as they try to maintain security in the capital

Taliban fighters flying their flag drive through the centre of Kabul as they try to maintain security in the capital

HOW A NATION FELL AS DOM HIT THE BEACH 

Fri, Aug 6: Zaranj becomes the first Afghan provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years

Sat, Aug 8: Dominic Raab flies to Crete. The week-long family break includes a stay at the exclusive Amirandes Hotel

Mon, Aug 9: The northern city of Kunduz falls, followed by a string of provincial capitals

Thur, Aug 12: The Taliban take Herat amid signs the Afghan regime is collapsing quickly

Britain announces 600 troops will be deployed to help airlift out British nationals and eligible Afghans from Kabul

Fri, Aug 13: Kandahar and Lashkar Gah fall to Taliban forces; US troops start evacuating American citizens

Officials advise Mr Raab to phone the Afghan foreign minister to urge him to help Afghan interpreters. But he does not do so, and the job is delegated. It later emerges the call never happened

Sat, Aug 14: The Taliban are just miles from Kabul

Sun, Aug 15: Taliban fighters complete their stunning takeover and enter the Afghan capital, while the president flees

The Prime Minister announces Parliament is to be recalled

Hotel guests in Crete later report that Mr Raab spends much of the day under a gazebo

Mon, Aug 16: Mr Raab finally returns to the UK at 1.40am

Desperate translators tell of their struggle to reach the safety of Kabul airport amid increasing fears for their safety

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A Whitehall source said that aides working for the Foreign Secretary had complained that he failed to get through his Red Box, which is filled each night with briefings. One claimed that he could read as little as a fifth of the contents, adding: ‘It is appalling negligence.’

However, a source close to Mr Raab yesterday dismissed this as ‘simply untrue’, insisting: ‘The Foreign Secretary has never not finished a Red Box.’

Mr Raab also found himself embroiled in a briefing war last night over whether he had delayed the setting up of a scheme to bring Afghan translators into this country. The Foreign Secretary was accused being responsible for delays in getting it agreed.

A government official told the Mail that while Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel were ‘totally on board’ with the plan, the Foreign Secretary was ‘an absolute nightmare’.

‘It was the same familiar story of Dom being uncontactable and saying he wouldn’t look at things for days on end,’ the official claimed. ‘He wouldn’t clear the policy and was stalling.’

However, sources close to Mr Raab last night rejected the criticism and said the delays were caused by his desire for the scheme to cover not just translators, but a much wider list of roles. The scheme was eventually announced in December last year.

Last night, opposition MPs even issued an extraordinary threat to try to dock Mr Raab’s pay.

They threatened to submit a motion on the first day back of Parliament next month calling for Mr Raab’s ministerial pay to be docked if he has not been sacked by then. Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip who is behind the move, said: ‘If the Prime Minister can’t show leadership on this, then I hope MPs will do his job for him.

‘There is no way Dominic Raab should be in post when Parliament returns. However, if he is, then I believe at the very least his wages should be docked.

‘If you don’t turn up for your job in a national crisis, then how on earth do you expect taxpayers to pay your ministerial wages?

‘In no other job in Britain would you get paid more money for failing to show up.’ She added: ‘Dominic Raab is not fit to represent this country. He has let down interpreters who are now in grave danger as a result of his gross incompetence. British service men and women owe their safety to these interpreters. The Foreign Secretary should have moved heaven and earth to save them.’

As a member of the Cabinet, Mr Raab receives a £67,505 ministerial salary on top of his £81,932 wage as an MP.

Amid the growing row over his commitment to the job, critics yesterday pointed to previous comments he has made about laziness. In 2012, he co-authored a book that claimed British workers are ‘among the worst idlers in the world’.

‘Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work,’ said the authors, who also included current Cabinet ministers Priti Patel, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng.

In an interview to promote the book, Mr Raab said: ‘People who are coasting – it should be easier to let them go, to give the unemployed a chance. It is a delicate balancing act, but it should be decided in favour of the latter.’ Labour MP Kevin Brennan last night said: ‘Dominic Raab is a hypocrite. How dare he malign British workers like that, especially when he couldn’t be bothered to get off his sun lounger to make a phone call to save people’s lives in Afghanistan.

‘He should resign but if he’s too stubborn, Boris Johnson should sack him.’

Taliban fighters display their flag on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, after retaking control of Afghanistan

Taliban fighters display their flag on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, after retaking control of Afghanistan

Taliban fighters display their flag on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, after retaking control of Afghanistan

Since returning to Britain from his holiday in Crete in the early hours of Monday morning, Mr Raab has argued he deserved a break from his demanding schedule. He said: ‘We didn’t predict that we would be doing this on this scale because of the Taliban takeover. But look, in retrospect of course I wouldn’t have gone on holiday if I had known that would be the case.

‘Equally, after 18 months and two years of a very gruelling, demanding schedule, I think it is right that people in those positions try and take some leave, but we are always ready, I’m always ready, to come back.’

Mr Raab, 47, a lawyer, was first elected as MP for Esher and Walton in 2010.

Working intensely? On his tan, perhaps

By Mario Ledwith in Crete and John Stevens in London for The Daily Mail

Given the Aegean sunshine, five-star beachfront resort, tennis courts and luxury loungers, it would have been a mighty wrench to tear oneself away.

And Dominic Raab didn’t, according to his fellow holidaymakers.

The Foreign Secretary’s claims that he was working intensely through his holiday in Crete have been rubbished by other guests at his hotel.

They say they were left in disbelief as the minister spent hours under a gazebo on Sunday as the Taliban completed its capture of Afghanistan after days of relentless pressure.

Mr Raab was seen swimming in the sea, playing tennis and lounging on a beach as the Taliban tore through Kabul, the guests claim.

The Foreign Secretary’s claims that he was working intensely through his holiday in Crete have been rubbished by other guests at his hotel

The Foreign Secretary’s claims that he was working intensely through his holiday in Crete have been rubbished by other guests at his hotel

The Foreign Secretary’s claims that he was working intensely through his holiday in Crete have been rubbished by other guests at his hotel

The embattled minister has said that he went outside to see his family only ‘episodically’ on the pivotal day, while holding remote meetings from the hotel.

But a witness described this claim as ‘nonsense’, saying they saw Mr Raab spend hours at the Amirandes hotel’s private beach alongside his wife Erika.

A laidback-looking Mr Raab could be seen swimming in the Sea of Crete and playing paddle tennis, they added. The Foreign Secretary, who only two days earlier had failed to make an urgent call regarding evacuations from Afghanistan due to his trip, could occasionally be seen looking at his phone.

Given the Aegean sunshine, five-star beachfront resort, tennis courts and luxury loungers, it would have been a mighty wrench to tear oneself away. And Dominic Raab didn't, according to his fellow holidaymakers. Pictured: Amirandes Hotel in Crete

Given the Aegean sunshine, five-star beachfront resort, tennis courts and luxury loungers, it would have been a mighty wrench to tear oneself away. And Dominic Raab didn't, according to his fellow holidaymakers. Pictured: Amirandes Hotel in Crete

Given the Aegean sunshine, five-star beachfront resort, tennis courts and luxury loungers, it would have been a mighty wrench to tear oneself away. And Dominic Raab didn’t, according to his fellow holidaymakers. Pictured: Amirandes Hotel in Crete

Guests at the hotel say they were left in disbelief as the minister spent hours under a gazebo on Sunday as the Taliban completed its capture of Afghanistan after days of relentless pressure

Guests at the hotel say they were left in disbelief as the minister spent hours under a gazebo on Sunday as the Taliban completed its capture of Afghanistan after days of relentless pressure

Guests at the hotel say they were left in disbelief as the minister spent hours under a gazebo on Sunday as the Taliban completed its capture of Afghanistan after days of relentless pressure

But the witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was not ‘glued to it’. The politician has admitted that he was ‘caught off-guard’ by the Taliban rampage and said that ‘no one saw this coming’.

He told Sky News that he returned to the UK late on Sunday evening ‘as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it’.

And he denied spending ‘all day lounging on the beach’ as Kabul fell on Sunday.

But a guest at the hotel yesterday questioned his version of events, saying: ‘He was on the beach for longer than they have made out, for sure.’

They added: ‘He was here when we got here and he was here when we left.’ Several UK holidaymakers spotted Mr Raab on both Saturday and Sunday at the five-star hotel, described as a ‘sparkling boutique resort for the privileged and perceptive’.

Mr Raab was seen swimming in the sea, playing tennis and lounging on a beach as the Taliban tore through Kabul, the guests claim (file photo)

Mr Raab was seen swimming in the sea, playing tennis and lounging on a beach as the Taliban tore through Kabul, the guests claim (file photo)

Mr Raab was seen swimming in the sea, playing tennis and lounging on a beach as the Taliban tore through Kabul, the guests claim (file photo)

The hotel, said to have been ‘inspired by the palaces of Minoan kings’, has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and upmarket restaurants and boutiques.

Many of its apartments and villas come with their own plunge pools, and cost up to several thousand pounds per night.

After being spotted at the hotel’s buffet on Sunday morning, Mr Raab is claimed to have returned to the beach for hours under a sprawling cabana.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office source said the claims that he spent a long time on the beach on Sunday were ‘wholly inaccurate’.

The source said: ‘On Sunday, before returning to the UK, the Foreign Secretary attended [an emergency meeting], held several meetings with FCDO officials focused on evacuations, and called the Pakistani foreign minister.’

 

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