Dominic Raab is facing mounting pressure to resign over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis as Labour warned there had been an “unforgiveable failure of leadership” by the Government.
The party has demanded details about the Government’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan and the Foreign Secretary’s holiday to the Greek island of Crete while Kabul fell to the Taliban.
It has set out a list of 18 urgent questions for the Foreign Secretary to answer about his trip and his department’s handling of the crisis.Mr Raab, who rejected calls to resign on Thursday, was reportedly “unavailable” when officials in his department suggested he “urgently” call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on August 13 – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who supported British troops.
It was reported on Thursday that the Afghan foreign ministry refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, pushing it back to the next day.
It has since emerged that a call never took place.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “Given the rapidly changing situation it was not possible to arrange a call before the Afghan government collapsed.”
The Times reported that Sir Philip Barton, Matthew Rycroft and David Williams, the respective permanent secretaries of the Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence, were on holiday amid the evacuations from Afghanistan.
It is understood that the senior officials continued to work on Afghanistan while on leave, with the Whitehall departments running systems where there is another minister or an acting permanent secretary to cover periods of leave.
A Government spokesperson 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.”
Labour said it is requesting specifics on when Mr Raab was out of the country and on leave from official duties, if he received advice from officials on the advisability of leaving as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, if he attended a Cobra meeting on August 15, and if other ministers were authorised to approve those intelligence operations designated urgent in his absence.
The party also questioned the Prime Minister’s involvement, asking Mr Raab if he spoke with Mr Johnson while he was away, and if the PM gave permission for him to leave the country.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “For the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to be on holiday during the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation is an unforgivable failure of leadership.”
Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have all called for Mr Raab to either quit or be sacked by the PM.
They accused him of failing to “perform his basic duties” and argued he is “no longer fit” to represent the country.
Meanwhile, senior MPs have warned the Government must ensure it meets its responsibility towards UK-linked workers “pursued into hiding” by Taliban forces.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and Conservative Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, warned the scope of the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) was “too narrow”.
In a letter to the Home Secretary on Thursday, they urged Priti Patel to provide more resources to support the issuing of visas to ensure those trying to leave Afghanistan do not face administrative delays which would be “unforgivable at this dangerous time”.
Ms Cooper and Mr Ellwood outlined their concern that Government application forms, guidance and ministerial briefings suggest that only those it “directly employed” were included in the ARAP scheme.
They wrote: “Many UK agencies and organisations have staff and contract workers who were visibly associated with the UK and who are being pursued into hiding by Taliban forces.
“We have a responsibility towards them.”
Their letter questioned whether the ARAP policy could be widened to include “those who have worked with third parties on UK projects”.
The Government has announced Britain will take up to 20,000 people wanting to exit Afghanistan as part of its resettlement scheme, with 5,000 due to be accepted in the next 12 months.
On Thursday, Mr Raab chaired a call of G7 foreign ministers to discuss the crisis, saying afterwards that foreign ministers had agreed each will “engage with partners” to try and secure an “inclusive political settlement” and to enable humanitarian assistance and prevent further loss of life in Afghanistan and to the international community from terrorism.