Whistleblower emails have raised further questions over Boris Johnson’s insistence that he did not intervene to assist animal charities during the evacuation of Afghanistan.
But new emails released by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the government’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis, suggest Mr Johnson did personally authorise rescue efforts for pets and animals.
What do the new emails say?
On 25 August 2021, an official working for Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith sent an email to the Foreign Office “special cases” team regarding the possible evacuation of an unnamed animal charity.
In it the official writes: “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”.
This appears to support claims made last year in written evidence by whistleblower Raphael Marshall, a desk officer at the Foreign Office, that the department “received an instruction from the prime minister” to use “considerable capacity” to help animals leave the country that were being cared for by Nowzad, run by Paul “Pen” Farthing.
“There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghan evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers,” he said.
Asked about this at the time, the PM said: “No, that’s complete nonsense.
“What I can tell you is that Operation Pitting, to airlift 15,000 people out of Kabul in the way that we did over the summer, was one of the outstanding military achievements of the last 50 years or more.
“The role of the Foreign Office, the role of Border Force, everybody involved in it, the Home Office officials, they did an absolutely outstanding job, processing very difficult, very complex claims, incredibly quickly.”
Mr Farthing launched a campaign to get his staff and animals out of Afghanistan as the Taliban overran Kabul, using a plane funded through donations.
The UK government sponsored clearance for a charter flight, which sparked claims that animals had been prioritised over people.
Asked about the new emails, the PM’s official spokesman said: “It remains the case that the PM didn’t instruct officials to take any particular course of action.”
This was reiterated by a Number 10 spokesperson, who 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.”
Lord Goldsmith tweeted: “I did not authorise & do not support anything that would have put animals’ lives ahead of peoples’.”
He added that he “never discussed the Nowzad charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the PM”.
And Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said “at no point” was he told by Mr Johnson 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,” he said in a statement.
“The evacuation was a Ministry of Defence led operation, supported by application processing by the Home Office and FCDO.
“The idea that an environment minister and his officials had any authority or responsibility in the running of the evacuation is ludicrous.”
However, Dominic Dyer, an animal rights campaigner who lobbied the prime minister to evacuate Pen Farthing and his animals, told Sky News that Boris Johnson “played a key role in the evacuation operation”.
He said the newly-released emails “vindicate what I’ve been saying since August” – that “there were clear lines being given by senior officials that the prime minister was giving strong support to the project”.
Asked why the PM denied it, Mr Dyer added: “It became a difficult situation, with Ministry of Defence seeing problems with the whole operation… there was a lot of tension between different Whitehall departments.”
PM told to come to Commons and face MPs
Labour MP Chris Bryant, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Sky News: “This goes back to the moral authority of the prime minister and whether the prime minister tells the truth.”
He said the PM should face MPs and answer questions.
“His authority, integrity and honour are on the line. He should come to the chamber and defend it,” Mr Bryant said.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey 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.”
Layla Moran, foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the “damning revelation shows that Boris Johnson has once again repeatedly lied to the British people”.
“Boris Johnson’s house of cards continues to come tumbling down. He must immediately make a public statement to correct the record and for once tell the truth,” she said.