Alicia Kearns Defends MoD "Integrity" After "Appalling" Pen Farthing Episode
Foreign Affairs Committee member Alicia Kearns has said she stands by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace's statement that the Prime Minister did not order the Ministry of Defence to evacuate Pen Farthing and his animals.
The Conservative MP, who has been highly critical of the foreign office’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis, said that “if Ben Wallace tells me that the Prime Minister didn’t sign it off, then I believe him entirely”.
During the August airlift from Afghanistan, Farthing gained authorisation for a plane of animals –including 173 cats and dogs – to leave the country after the Taliban gained control. Thousands of people were not evacuated, and the government has faced questions over who authorised Farthing's airlift.
Last week, documents released by the Foreign Affairs Committee appeared to show that Boris Johnson personally authorised the evacuation of staff and animals from Farthing's charity Nowzad.
An email from the office of minister Zac Goldsmith stated that "Nowzad, run by an ex Royal Marine, has received a lot of publicity and the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated".
A separate letter, leaked to Sky News, showed that Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary Trudy Harrison contacted a private aircraft charter firm in an effort to secure a plane to evacuate Farthing, his dogs and cats. Harrison has said she was not acting on the instruction of the Prime Minister, who has continued to deny personal involvement in the Farthing scandal.
Wallace has sought to distance the MoD from the highly controversial airlift of Farthing's animals, insisting that "at no point were [the Chief of Joint Operations] or I directed by the Prime Minister to evacuate Pen Farthing, his workforce or his pets".
“The fact that even a minute of time was wasted, which should have been spent otherwise, is appalling,” Kearns told The House magazine in an interview that will be published in full later this month.
When asked whether the Prime Minister personally intervened to authorise the evacuation of Farthing and his animals, Kearns told The House that “if Ben Wallace tells me that the Prime Minister didn’t sign it off, then I believe him entirely".
“Ben has acted with such integrity throughout all of this. I was frustrated because so many MPs were just like ‘oh I’ll forward stuff’. You needed to be on the phone, you needed to be fighting."
Throughout the crisis, which took place in August last year, Kearns attempted to evacuate 680 families from Afghanistan.
She successfully managed around 400, holding conference calls at two and four o’clock in the morning to aid her efforts.
Kearns' personal phone number was leaked to the veteran community and to Afghans on the ground, so the former foreign office civil servant dealt with non-stop calls and messages for help from across the globe.
“When everyone says it was chaos, it was awful,” Kearns said.
“I was angry about the Pen Farthing stuff. The audacity [of him] to go out and attack [Wallace’s special advisor] Peter Quentin who responded to my Whatsapp messages at every hour helping me.
“No one did better than the Ministry of Defence, they were exceptional.”
Throughout the crisis Kearns spent time personally fundraising to evacuate Afghans to safer neighboring states via commercial routes.
At one point the MP raised £12,000 in an hour through calling “random people” that she “thought might have money”.
However, when a private company offering to transport fleeing families hiked their price by 300%, Kearns had to give generous donors their money back.
“Those weeks were some of the most emotional of my life,” Kearns added.
“The idea that it was ‘Dunkirk by Whatsapp’ is 100% true.
“Those three weeks were chaos and we all did everything we could to get people out.”
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