Boris Johnson has insisted he has full confidence in Dominic Raab after the Foreign Secretary was criticised for his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
The Prime Minister was challenged over Mr Raab’s decision to delegate a call to a junior minister about repatriating Afghan interpreters.
Asked whether he had full confidence in Mr Raab, Mr Johnson told reporters in Downing Street: “Absolutely.
“And I can tell you that the whole of the Government has been working virtually around the clock to do what we can to sort it out, to deal with a situation that has been long in gestation and to make sure we get as many people back as possible.”
The question came after it was reported that Foreign Office officials advised the Foreign Secretary on August 13 to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who had supported British troops.
But Mr Raab delegated this to department minister Lord Goldsmith, and it later emerged the call was never made.
Mr Johnson said he did not think the decision of his Cabinet minister had delayed the rescue of Afghan interpreters from the Taliban.
The Prime Minister, asked whether people have been left in Afghanistan as a result of Mr Raab not making the phone call, said: “No, I don’t think that’s the case.”
In a statement released on Friday, Mr Raab said the reason he did not hold the conversation with his Afghan counterpart was because the Government “was quickly overtaken by events”.
Today I met @NATO Foreign Ministers to discuss our common approach to Afghanistan, founded on counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and regional stability. https://t.co/ajsfwcjsVI— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) August 20, 2021
Security and capacity at the airport
He added: “The call was delegated to a minister of state because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director-general overseeing the crisis response.
“In any event, the Afghan foreign minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
Mr Raab has faced calls to resign over his handling of Afghanistan but, as well as the Prime Minister, senior Tories have spoken up for the under-fire minister.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said it was “nonsense” that Mr Raab, who was formerly chief-of-staff to Mr Davis before becoming an MP, should consider his position after he was found to be on holiday in Crete as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
Speaking to the PA news agency, he said that while there had clearly been failings in the handling of the crisis by the Government, they could not be directed at any one person and that having worked with Mr Raab he was a “workaholic” who would often pull 60-hour weeks.
One Tory MP reportedly told the Guardian Mr Raab’s position was untenable and that “not coming home was his biggest mistake”.
But Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, said: “This is an anti-Raab witch hunt, and I don’t like it.”
Mr Raab has continued to work on the international response to the Taliban takeover since his return from holiday, meeting virtually with counterparts in the Nato military alliance on Friday.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the meeting had focused on “the need for an inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan, and for the international community to remain united in ensuring the Taliban uphold human rights for citizens across the country”.
The Prime Minister also pursued his own diplomatic push for allies to take a united front in dealing with the Taliban.
He and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte agreed that any recognition of a new Afghan government should not happen on a unilateral basis, according to a Downing Street readout.
Mr Johnson, when speaking to reporters after he had chaired an emergency Government Cobra meeting on Afghanistan, hinted that the UK could be willing to work with the Taliban “if necessary” to “find a solution” after 20 years of military engagement.
Speaking in the No 10 study, he said the situation was “getting slightly better”, with “stabilisation” at Kabul airport, where there have been chaotic scenes in recent days.
He said 2,000 people had been repatriated to the UK in the past days, with most of them UK nationals or those who had assisted British efforts in the central Asian country.
The Prime Minister stressed it would be a “mistake” to think of the end of August or the beginning of September as a “cut-off point for our involvement and our willingness to help” and that there would be time to sort accommodation and logistics for the 20,000 Afghan refugees the UK aims to take.
“The UK’s commitment to Afghanistan is lasting and our plan to help people with the resettlement programme will run for a good while to come,” he said.
Related: Watch: Flashback to Tony Blair committing to ‘not walk away’ from Afghan people