- Foreign Office chiefs were grilled in parliament about the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan, which whistleblowers said the PM intervened in.
- Senior officials struggled under questioning to explain the chain of command for the evacuation.
- A senior MP said those officials were dodging questions to avoid calling Boris Johnson a liar.
Senior officials in the UK’s foreign office are dodging questions to avoid calling Prime Minister Boris Johnson a liar, a senior MP has said.
In a Monday hearing by the Foreign Affairs Committee, MPs quizzed Sir Philip Barton, the top civil servant in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and Nigel Casey, the prime minister’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, on who had ultimately authorized the evacuation from Afghanistan of staff with the animal-rescue charity Nowzad.
Several whistleblower testimonies have suggested that the prime minister personally intervened in the evacuation.
Chris Bryant, a Labor MP and member of the committee, told Insider the hearing had been “a disaster.”
“It seems it was a lottery as to whether government decisions were actually decisions or not. And I’m left with the feeling that they think and maybe even know that the decision was taken by Johnson but they daren’t call their boss a liar ,” he said.
During the session, Conservative committee chair Tom Tugendhat said the attitude of the senior officials “makes it very hard for this committee to hold the Government to account.”
Speaking to Insider after the session, a member of the committee expressed their frustration at the lack of clarity as to who had actually authorized the evacuation of Nowzad staff. They characterized the response of the officials as “bizarre.”
During the Monday hearing, Barton and Casey repeatedly pointed to an August 24 tweet by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace as evidence that a decision had been made to evacuate Nowzad animals and staff.
Casey said the decision was referred to the national security advisor, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, who works in the Cabinet Office as an advisor to the Prime Minister. But it was unclear on what authority Lovegrove may have responded to the referral.
New whistleblower testimony published Monday said Barton and Casey may have “intentionally lied” to Parliament about Johnson’s involvement in the decision.
Josie Stewart, the whistleblower, said it was “widespread knowledge” that the decision to help Nowzad staff had come from Johnson. Downing Street denies Johnson’s involvement, and the officials said they did not know who had ultimately made the decision.
Barton told MPs on Monday that Lovegrove’s role had led to a mistaken assumption by FCDO officials that the decision had been made by Johnson.
“This was an assumption he made based on the fact that it had come from the national security advisor, which was understandable given the many voices in the media at the time, claiming that the prime minister had made the decision,” Barton said.
“It is sometimes the case that where things are communicated by the center of government they are ascribed to the Prime Minister,” he added. He was unable to provide another example where this had happened.
Casey suggested he may have deleted the emails that were interpreted by others as demonstrating Johnson’s involvement, saying that “your inbox gums up” otherwise.
Casey also argued that he had been CC’d into emails, suggesting this was distinct from them having been sent directly to him.