Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been criticised for being too busy to speak with Afghanistan’s foreign minister as the country descended into chaos.
Mr Raab has been accused of failing to ask Hanif Atmar for urgent assistance in evacuating Afghan interpreters who had worked for UK military personnel during the 20-year conflict in the country.
The foreign secretary was on holiday when senior officials advised he should speak with Mr Atmar as the Taliban headed for Kabul, the Afghan capital.
It was important the call was made by Mr Raab, rather than a junior minister, the officials had said.
But they were told Mr Raab was unavailable and that Lord Goldsmith, the Foreign Office minister on duty, could speak to Mr Atmar instead.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The foreign secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister.”
Mr Raab reportedly did not speak with his Afghan counterpart until at least the next day, after the Afghan foreign ministry refused to set up a call with the more junior UK minister.
This meant crucial time was lost before the Taliban took control of Kabul on Sunday, prompting a desperate scramble to evacuate thousands of Britons and the interpreters that is still ongoing.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused Mr Raab of a “dereliction of duty” on Wednesday.
He added: “Failing to make a call has put the lives of brave interpreters at risk, after they served so bravely with our military. Utterly shameful.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was said to have been in Somerset as the Taliban marched towards Kabul, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised both him and Mr Raab, saying: “You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.”
Mr Raab also appears to have made a “calculated snub” of fellow Tory MP Tom Tugendhat’s powerful and emotional speech in the Commons on Wednesday.
Sky’s chief political correspondent Jon Craig described Mr Tugendhat’s oratory as “a strong contender for parliamentary speech of the year” during what was a highly-charged and, at times, ill-tempered seven-and-a-half hour debate on the situation in Afghanistan.
Mr Tugendhat, a former army officer who served in Afghanistan, told MPs the past week had seen him, like many veterans, “struggle through anger, grief and rage” as events in Afghanistan unfolded.
Craig said Mr Raab had sat through most of the debate “squirming on the government front bench as he was repeatedly taunted by opposition MPs over being on holiday in Crete on the day Kabul fell”.
“Winding up the debate… he found time to mention the speeches of other distinguished former military officers who spoke during the debate – Tobias Ellwood, Johnny Mercer, Dan Jarvis and Sir Iain Duncan Smith – as is the courtesy and tradition in parliamentary debates.
“The charitable explanation for Mr Raab’s omission of Mr Tugendhat is that he ran out of time.”