New Whistleblower Claims Boris Johnson Intervened To Evacuate Dogs From Afghanistan
Pen Farthing and his charity Nowzad airlifted 170 animals from Afghanistan during the UK's withdrawal from the country last year (Alamy)
A second whistleblower in the Foreign Office has backed up claims Boris Johnson personally intervened to help get a plane full of animals evacuated from Afghanistan during the UK’s military withdrawal from the country last year.
The Prime Minister has always denied being involved in the process assisting British citizen Pen Farthing and more than 100 cats and dogs cared for by his charity Nowzad to be airlifted from Kabul as thousands of others were attempting to flee as the Taliban took over.
But in written testimony published today, senior official Josie Stewart said it was “widespread knowledge" in the FCDO Crisis Centre the decision to support Nowzad came from Johnson.
The case became controversial after claims that animals' lives were being placed above human lives during the evacuation effort last August, with hundreds of Afghans eligible to come to the UK left behind.
Stewart's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee also corroborates much of fellow whistleblower Raphael Marshall’s account of the chaos around the withdrawal and how vulnerable Afghans were selected for evacuation.
She stated that the “prioritisation was based on who happened to open or forward which random email”, adding that “there was no clear tasking, no system for recording decisions or actions, no system for handovers between shifts”.
On Nowzad, which attracted controversy for evacuating staff and 170 animals on 28 August last year, two days before the final British flight left as part of Operation Pitting, Stewart effectively accuses the Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO, Sir Philip Barton, of lying to the committee.
Stewart, who previously worked at the British Embassy in Kabul and volunteered to work on the Afghanistan Crisis Response, said she does not find Barton's explanation for having given “inadvertently inaccurate answers” to the cross-party group of MPs about this matter “credible”.
During an evidence session in December, Barton told the committee he was “not aware of the decision making” on the Nowzad case, and in January said he had no reason to believe FCDO staff attributed the decision to the Prime Minister.
He said Nigel Casey, director of the FCDO’s Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran Directorate, had not received emails on this matter, but the committee then published a message from a senior official referring to “the PM’s decision” on Farthing’s animals, copied to Casey.
Barton returned to face the MPs and apologised for “inadvertently inaccurate answers”, stating Casey had been busy and did not remember the email, but a day later the BBC published further emails showing Casey wrote an email himself about asking “Number 10” for input on the case.
“I cannot fathom why either Philip Barton or Nigel Casey would have intentionally lied to the Committee, but I believe that they must have done so both in the letter dated 17 January and in the oral testimony given on 25 January”, Stewart said.
She pointed to the fact Casey “explicitly testified that he had searched his emails and found nothing of relevance”, but she found multiple which referenced “the PM’s decision on Nowzad” which he was copied into.
She said the only possible explanations are that Casey deleted his emails against departmental policy, “he did not know how to use the 'CTRL-F' function in Outlook”, or that “he was lying”.
The senior civil servant, who said she now expects to lose her job, said she was not aware of any “deliberate decision to prioritise animals over people”, but said the decisions were not in line with policy.
A Downing Street spokesperson has denied the claim.
Barton and Casey were later hauled back in front of the committee for further questioning this afternoon, with the latter apologising for failing to find the email that Stewart did.
”In Microsoft Outlook there's a wordsearch function, which is how I do it, maybe that's what accounts for the failure for the document to pop up,” Casey said.
“And I'm really sorry about that. If I had my time again I would cast the net wider."
The Labour MP Chris Bryant asked if his view that the committee was misled, but “it was inadvertent and you're sorry”, to which he replied: ”That's right and I repeat that apology to you wholeheartedly right now.”
Casey also conceded he may have deleted crucial emails relating to Nowzad, saying his inbox was “exploding” during the crisis.
Under questioning both he and Barton said they still do not know who authorised the evacuation of staff from Kabul.
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