PM personally ordered evacuation of Pen Farthing's animals from Kabul, email claims

27 January 2022, 00:40 | Updated: 27 January 2022, 08:38

Boris Johnson's denied intervening to get Nowzad's animals out of Afghanistan
Boris Johnson's denied intervening to get Nowzad's animals out of Afghanistan. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Newly-released emails have cast doubt on Boris Johnson's denial that he authorised the evacuation of a charity's animals from Afghanistan.

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The Nowzad charity, headed by ex-Royal Marine Pen Farthing, got out of Kabul on a flight as the country fell to the Taliban late last summer.

Mr Farthing was outspoken in his criticism of the Government as he demanded his staff and dogs and cats get passage out of the central Asian state, as tens of thousands of people tried to flee the new regime.

Mr Johnson and Downing Street have denied he personally ordered their departure.

On Wednesday, No10 denied Mr Johnson had a role in authorising the animals' evacuation or gave instructions to officials to take a "course of action", while the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted he was never told to prioritise animals over people.

When asked Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, about the email trail, Thérèse Coffey said: "Well not only has the PM said he had no role in individual evacuations, particularly referring to the Nowzad situation….

"The Defence Secretary has said he was absolutely in charge of the operations.

"At no time was he directed by the Prime Minister on this and our brilliant and brave armed forces have been recognised for their efforts with a medal recognising Operation Pitting.

"We got 15,000 Afghans and British nationals out of Kabul in that difficult time. And you know the Defence Secretary has continued to state he was in charge of operations, he was not directed and he had no role in individual evacuations."

Documents released by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee overnight showed how Sir Philip Barton - the Foreign Office's permanent-under secretary - said he was "not aware" of support for the decision to evacuate Nowzad either in No 10 or from the Prime Minister.

He said that "beyond speculation in the public domain" he did not know of any reason civil servants would attribute the decision to the PM.

Read more: Afghanistan: British troops to receive medal for heroism during Kabul evacuation

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The animals' evacuation was controversial because vulnerable people who were connected to foreign forces that fought the Taliban were left behind as the militants took control and launched reprisals.

One email released by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee suggests Mr Johnson did allow the animals' departure.

An email released by the committee showed a Foreign Office employee email another person in that department to speak about Nowzad and another animal charity
An email released by the committee showed a Foreign Office employee email another person in that department to speak about Nowzad and another animal charity. Picture: parliament.uk

An email sent from a Foreign Office employee in Lord Zac Goldsmith's office to an official in the same department, who worked in a "Special Cases team", said another animal charity was looking to get out of Afghanistan.

The email, dated to August 25 2021, said that charity was "seeking to evacuation their [details redacted] members of staff (no animals)".

It went on to say that "Equivalent charity 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, [animal charity – name redacted] are hoping to be treated in the same capacity".

The Government was criticised last year by a whistleblower, Raphael Marshall, who told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Foreign Office failed tens of thousands of Afghans in the evacuation.

The ex-Foreign Office employee said in a statement: "There was no reason to believe the Taliban would target animal rights charities.

"There was therefore no justification for concluding Nowzad's staff were at significant risk.

"By contrast many others would inevitably be left behind who were at risk of murder."

Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary when the Taliban took over the country in mere months, was already defending his actions after it emerged he stayed on holiday as the Taliban advanced on Kabul – ultimately overthrowing the Afghan state that Britain, the US and allies had lost lives and money trying to build up.

Downing Street distanced Mr Johnson from involvement in the decision to take Nowzad's animals out.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said on Wednesday: "It remains the case that the PM didn't instruct officials to take any particular course of action."

A Downing Street statement said: "The Prime Minister had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting, including Nowzad staff and animals.

"At no point did the Prime Minister instruct staff to take any particular course of action on Nowzad."

Mr Wallace said in a statement: "At no point were he [the British military's Chief of Joint Operations] or I directed by the Prime Minister to evacuate Pen Farthing, his workforce or his pets.

"As I made clear at the time, we were not going to put pets before people and as the actions showed, Pen Farthing left last and his workforce had to leave after the evacuation was concluded via other means."

John Healey MP, Labour's shadow defence secretary, said: "Once again, the Prime Minister has been caught out lying about what he has been doing and deciding. He should never have given priority to flying animals out of Afghanistan while Afghans who worked for our armed forces were left behind.

"Boris Johnson is unable to make the serious decisions that are needed, at home and for our allies abroad.

"In this case people were fleeing in terror as the Taliban took over Kabul and British Forces were putting their lives at risk, the Prime Minister was once again prioritising the wrong things and making the wrong calls. We need to know why the PM overruled the Defence Secretary with this decision.“