MPs have pointed the finger at Boris Johnson for a “mysterious intervention” in an effort to evacuate staff from the Nowzad animal welfare charity from Afghanistan.
In a scathing report, a cross-party committee said the situation around Nowzad’s animals and staff highlighted the “arbitrary and chaotic” nature of the Foreign Office’s role in the evacuation process.
Downing Street has denied the Prime Minister played any role in prioritising the evacuation of Nowzad’s staff but the Foreign Affairs Committee said “multiple senior officials” believed he had and “we have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation”.
Mr Johnson personally dismissed as “total rhubarb” claims he was involved in prioritising the evacuation of animals over people.
Nowzad was set up by former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing, who launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out of Kabul as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan.
Despite the intervention, Nowzad’s staff eventually fled Afghanistan to Pakistan rather than on a plane from Kabul, but the charity’s animals were able to leave on a charter flight with Mr Farthing, which the MPs said absorbed “significant” resources during the chaotic period.
The Tory-led committee said Nowzad’s staff were called for evacuation “at the last minute” despite not meeting the Foreign Office’s prioritisation criteria “after a mysterious intervention from elsewhere in Government”.
“Multiple senior officials believed that the Prime Minister played a role in this decision,” the committee said.
“We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation for how it came about.”
Mr Farthing was also allowed to use a privately funded charter flight to rescue his animals “absorbing significant Government resources in the midst of the biggest military airlift in decades”, although by the time of the flight on August 28 civilian evacuations had finished.
“We make no criticism of the organisation, its staff, or those who campaigned on its behalf: they were open about their case and objectives, which were in keeping with their stated priorities,” the MPs said.
“The same cannot be said for the Government.”
During the course of its inquiry, the committee heard from Foreign Office whistleblowers Raphael Marshall and Josie Stewart, who cast doubt on the official version of events surrounding Nowzad’s evacuation.
The MPs said they had lost confidence in Foreign Office mandarin Sir Philip Barton “who should consider his position”.
The committee said: “Those who lead the department should be ashamed that civil servants of great integrity felt compelled to risk their careers to bring to light the appalling mismanagement of the crisis, and the misleading statements to Parliament that followed.”
The MPs said that on August 25 2021, Foreign Office officials saw that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had tweeted that Nowzad staff had been cleared for authorisation.
This came on the day the Government ceased calling people forward for evacuation and after “many vulnerable individuals” had been removed from official lists “due to lack of capacity” on flights out of Kabul.
“This was a total overriding of the FCDO’s (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) prioritisation system that had happened in no other case,” the committee said.
“It was irresponsible and risked ‘policy-making by Twitter’.”
Officials sought “rapid confirmation” from the National Security Adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, who agreed to “urgently” seek “clear guidance from No 10” then phoned shortly afterwards to confirm that they should call the group forward.
“Many senior FCDO officials believed that the decision came directly from the Prime Minister,” the report said.
The committee said: “The fact that nobody can state who made the decision that Nowzad staff should be evacuated suggests at best that the political leadership was chaotic and at worst that senior figures are not telling the truth.”