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Dominic Raab has said it is “nonsense” to say he was “lounging around on the beach all day” while on his holiday as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, and said he didn’t go paddleboarding because “the sea was actually closed”.
The foreign secretary has been under pressure from opposition parties to resign over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
It was reported that Foreign Office officials advised Raab on August 13 to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who supported British troops.
But Raab, who was on holiday, delegated this to junior minister Lord Goldsmith, and it later emerged the call had never been made.
The Times reported that witnesses saw the foreign secretary swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete.
But Raab told Sky News on Wednesday morning: “The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense.
“The stuff about me paddleboarding, nonsense, the sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.
“I was focused on the Cobra meetings, the Foreign Office team, the director and the director general, and the international engagement.”
But Raab, who has defied calls to quit, admitted “of course with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn’t have gone away”.
On Tuesday evening Joe Biden rejected calls from Boris Johnson and other allies to delay his August 31 exit date for US forces from Afghanistan, citing the heightened security risks to troops.
The move means the clock is quickly running down on the UK evacuation operation at Kabul airport, with British troops expected to have to leave ahead of their American counterparts.
Raab said the UK was working “as fast as we can” to maximise the number of people who can flee.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme 2,000 have been evacuated in the previous 24 hours.
Raab declined to state when the last British flight will leave Kabul, amid suggestions that the UK operation will have to end as soon as Friday.
“The military planners are working through the limited time they need to draw down their personnel and equipment and so they will firm up those details,” he said.
“We will use every hour and day we’ve got to maximise that throughput to get as many of those residual cases out.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.