'Total rhubarb': PM denies claims he approved animal airlift out of Afghanistan

27 January 2022, 13:19 | Updated: 27 January 2022, 13:20

Boris Johnson denied claims denies claims he approved an animal airlift out of Afghanistan
Boris Johnson denied claims denies claims he approved an animal airlift out of Afghanistan. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson said it is "total rhubarb" to say he intervened to get animals airlifted out of Afghanistan

Leaked emails that emerged yesterday suggested he authorised the controversial move.

The Prime Minister was accused of lying about the role and sought to dismiss allegations he personally approved the evacuation of cats and dogs from the Nowzad charity in Kabul.

He has repeatedly denied approving their rescue in the final days of the mission as thousands of people wanting to flee the Taliban were left behind.

But a newly-surfaced email shared with a Commons inquiry shows a Foreign Office official saying in August that the Prime Minister had just "authorised" the animals' rescue.

"This whole thing is total rhubarb," the Prime Minister said today during a visit to Hanson Aggregates in Conwy, North Wales, saying he was "proud" of the military airlifts.

The Prime Minister said: "No, that is... this whole thing is total rhubarb.

"I was very proud of what our armed services did with Op Pitting and it was an amazing thing to to move 15,000 people out of Kabul in the way that we did.

"I thought it was also additionally very good that we were able to help those vets who came out as well.

"But I can tell you that the military always prioritised human beings and that was quite right.

"I think we should be incredibly proud of Op Pitting and what it achieved."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman had earlier said: "It's not uncommon in Whitehall for a decision to be interpreted or portrayed as coming directly from the Prime Minister even when that's not the case and it's our understanding that's what happened in this instance. We appreciate it was a frenetic time for those officials dealing with this situation."

Asked if he was suggesting the Foreign Office official was mistaken, he replied: "I can't say individually which official but that's our understanding of what happened."

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey suggested the official had been acting in an unauthorised capacity.

The Work and Pensions Secretary told LBC: "I've seen a screenshot of an email.

Quite often it's not unusual in Parliament and in Government for people to say... for their pet projects the PM has said it's a priority.

"There are a lot of things we deliver as the Government but the PM had no role in individual evacuations and the Defence Secretary (Ben Wallace) said he was in charge of (the overall rescue operation) in that regard."

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg described calls for a debate on the issue as "fussing about a few animals".

Emails shared with the Foreign Affairs Committee show an official in Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith's private office telling colleagues on August 25 "the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated".

A separate email from another Foreign Office official referred to the "PM's decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity".

They were submitted to the MPs by Raphael Marshall, who worked for the Foreign Office at the time and alleges the animals were evacuated following an order from Mr Johnson - despite the Prime Minister previously describing suggestions he personally intervened as "complete nonsense".

A previously leaked letter showed Conservative MP Trudy Harrison, then parliamentary private secretary to Mr Johnson, also hinted at involvement.

The MP for Copeland wrote to Nowzad founder Paul "Pen" Farthing on August 25 to inform him the evacuation could go ahead.

With it unclear how the charity is connected to the Cumbrian constituency, Mr Marshall said No 10's claim she was acting in her capacity as a constituency MP is "not credible".

He told the committee: "A request for the evacuation of Nowzad's staff from Ms Harrison in her capacity as MP for Copeland would have been disregarded."