Under-fire Dominic Raab has tried to distance himself from explosive whistleblower revelations over the “dysfunctional” and “chaotic” evacuation from Afghanistan.
The top Tory, who was criticised for holidaying in Crete as the Taliban swept through the country, said the evidence from Raphael Marshall was “inaccurate in some respects” and dismissed him as a “relatively junior desk officer”.
Allied forces withdrew from the war-torn country as Taliban fighters advanced – sparking a refugee emergency as worried Afghans tried to flee.
Foreign Office chiefs will be grilled about string of alleged failings at the department during this summer's Afghan crisis later.
Mr Marshall, who worked for the Foreign Office during the Operation Pitting evacuation effort, claimed just 5% of Afghan nationals who applied to leave under one UK scheme received help.
MOD/AFP via Getty Images)
Some were murdered after being left behind in Kabul after the Taliban swept to power in August, he alleged in devastating written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
He said Mr Raab “did not fully understand the situation”, was slow to rule on cases and requested they were reformatted “in a well-presented table” before making decisions
But the Cabinet Minister told BBC Breakfast: "I don't accept that. This is from a relatively junior desk officer.”
Mr Raab, who was demoted to Justice Secretary after his handling of the crisis, claimed Mr Marshall's evidence was "inaccurate in certain respects – the suggestion that junior desk officers were making decisions is just not correct".
He added: “On the charge it took several hours to make decisions, we’re not talking about days, it’s not been suggested weeks, but several hours to make sure we had the facts, and that, as between myself, the Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary, decisions were made and actually I would suggest that’s a reasonably swift turnaround.”
Quizzed about demanding spreadsheets before deciding on cases, he admitted: "In terms of presentation, of course with the volume of claims coming in, I make no apology for saying I needed the clear facts that each case presented precisely so we can make swift decisions.
AFP via Getty Images)
“Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world… I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was.”
Former Marine Pen Farthing hit the headlines as he battled to get his staff and animals evacuated from the Nowzad shelter in Afghanistan, using a plane funded through donations.
“That’s just not accurate,” Mr Raab told Sky News. “We did not put the welfare of animals above individuals.”
Asked if Mr Marshall’s claims were a lie, Mr Raab said: “I am not accusing anyone of lying. I am just correcting the facts.”
Downing Street said the PM’s Carrie Johnson did not intervene to organise the rescue of animals.
On whether the Prime Minister’s wife took the matter forward, his spokesman said: “That claim is untrue.
“Neither the Prime Minister nor Mrs Johnson were involved,” he added.
Tory Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the “serious” allegations “go to the heart of the failures of leadership around the Afghan disaster”.
He added that the “failures betrayed our friends and allies and squandered decades of British and Nato effort” while he described the evacuation effort as “one of lack of interest, and bureaucracy over humanity”.
Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said Mr Raab consider his position – and said she was “disgusted” and “truly shocked” to hear the testimony.
A string of senior civil servants are due to be questioned about the claims later today, including Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Barton and the former ambassador Laurie Bristow.
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