“No, that’s complete nonsense”

Boris Johnson, Sky News

December 6, 2021

Facts

Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the allegation that he prioritised the evacuation of Pen Farthing's animals over people during Britain's evacuation from Afghanistan.

Yet the Foreign Office team dealing with the evacuation was told that the decision came from the Prime Minister, as later established by a combination of whistle-blower testimony and emails.

According to the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Philip Barton, this belief was a mistaken assumption which arose because the decision had been communicated to the department by the National Security Adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove. 

When the Foreign Affairs Select Committee asked who had made that decision, the Foreign Office’s Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigel Casey said: ‘we do not know the answer to that question, as I said, to this day. We had a direction from the National Security Adviser, which we could only assume was given on the authority of somebody in power who could make that direction. We did not question it. It was a crisis and we had very little time to act, so we got on with it. I accept that it is a very unusual situation, and we do not know the answer.’

In the early hours of 25 August, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tweeted: ‘Now that Pen Farthing’s staff have been cleared to come forward under LOTR I have authorised MOD to facilitate their processing alongside all other eligible personnel at HKIA. At that stage, if he arrives with his animals we will seek a slot for his plane.’

The staff of Farthing’s charity Nowzad, and their animals, were eventually flown out of Afghanistan on a charter flight on 28 August.

Wallace later told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that he had not made the decision to grant leave outside the rules (LOTR) to Farthing’s staff. ‘Who approved them specifically? Was it through that process? I did not sit there and sign them off. I do not know,’ he said.

When the Foreign Affairs Select Committee reported it recorded that  “We tried to trace the source of the decision to overrule the FCDO’s prioritisation process.  The Prime Minister denied any role in the decision, as did the Defence Secretary. A senior FCDO official told us that they assumed the National Security Adviser had given the instruction “on the authority of somebody in power who could make that direction.” However, when we asked the National Security Adviser, whom he had consulted, he said he did not remember.”

It added that “The fact that nobody can state who made the decision that Nowzad staff should be evacuated suggests at best that the political leadership was chaotic and at worst that senior figures are not telling the truth.”

The final verdict was devastating: “the FCDO has repeatedly given us answers that, in our judgement, are at best intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading. On Nowzad, they only admitted that the case had been in any way unusual when faced with the evidence of whistleblowers. At best, the Permanent Under-Secretary displayed a worrying lack of knowledge of the department he leads, and a determination to avoid unearthing the facts that would allow him to answer our questions. Far from the routine process he initially described to us, this case involved an unknown decision-maker in Government completely overruling the FCDO’s system for prioritising individuals for evacuation, triggering urgent last-minute consultations with some of the most senior people in Government, in discussions with no notes taken or decisions recorded.”

 Verdict

Unproven: Although there was no direct UK decision to evacuate animals, some Foreign Office officials did have concerns about the decision to extend leave outside the rules to Nowzad staff, which effectively enabled the departure of their animals.

Given the Foreign Office’s explanation, it cannot be conclusively proven that the Prime Minister took this decision. However, in the absence of a satisfactory account of who did take the decision, suspicion must remain that this was the case. It is relevant to note that since Boris Johnson is a habitual and proven liar, his actual denial carries zero weight.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s personal role the Foreign Affairs Committee said this: “Amid intense media attention, [Nowzad] staff were called for evacuation at the last minute, despite not meeting the FCDO’s prioritisation criteria, after a mysterious intervention from elsewhere in Government. Multiple senior officials believed that the Prime Minister played a role in this decision. We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation for how it came about.” 

We approached Mr Johnson’s office, the Cabinet Office and the No 10 Press Office to give them a chance to comment, but received no response. This approach was made before the publication of the FAC report.

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