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PEERS have demanded a Government minister come to the Lords and explain himself after leaked emails detailed government involvement in the airlift of animals from Afghanistan.
Boris Johnson described the claims that he personally authorised the evacuation of dozens of cats and dogs from Kabul in August as "total rhubarb" earlier today.
It came after a committee published emails showing officials involved in the evacuation telling others that Mr Johnson had given the green light for the animals, rescued by animal charity Nowzad, to be airlifted out.
Fresh emails have also been obtained, indicating foreign secretary Dominic Raab was also looking for advice from No.10 about the case.
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory peer and government environment minister, told Lords in December that the Prime Minister had not been involved.
Downing Street has also denied Mr Goldsmith was involved in the operation to get stranded Afghans and British nationals out of the Taliban-controlled country.
However one email sent on August 25, 2020 by a foreign office official working in Mr Goldsmith's office, stated that Nowzad, run by ex Royal Marine Pen Farthing, had "received a lot of publicity", adding that the "PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.
They asked for help with another charity who were hoping to get their staff out of Kabul.
The email stated:" [animal charity – name redacted] are (an) animal charity operating in Kabul and seeking to evacuation their members of staff (no animals).
"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] are hoping to be treated in the same capacity."
Another Foreign Office official referred to the “PM’s decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity” in a separate email sent on August 25.
BBC Newsnight went on to obtain an email from the deputy principal private secretary to then foreign secretary Dominic Raab at the time discussing Nowzad staff being called forward for evacuation.
“The FS is seeking a steer from No 10 on whether to call them forward now,” it read.
Another email from Nigel Casey, the Prime Minister’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, showed him asking the national security adviser “to seek clear guidance for us from No 10 asap on what they would like us to do”.
Allies of Mr Johnson were trying to downplay the situation, with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissing calls for a debate as “fussing about a few animals”.
In the lords, Labour peer George Foulkes, who had previously asked Mr Goldsmith if the Prime Minister had been involved in the rescue, has called for him to explain his position and and resign.
This afternoon more peers questioned the apparent discrepancy, while No.10 continued to deny Mr Goldsmith had anything to do with the evacuation despite the email coming from his office.
Lord Goldsmith wrote on Twitter that he “did not authorise and do not support anything that would have put animals’ lives ahead of people’s”, adding: “I never discussed the Nowzad charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the PM.”
Labour former defence secretary Lord Des Browne said: “Once again we’re being treated to ministers in studios and in the House not facing up to the fact that the evidence is out there. These emails are there for people to see.”
Baroness Angela Smith, Labour leader in the Lords, added: “If Lord Goldsmith has made a statement to this House that appears at the face of it to be at odds with the statement in an email from his private office that is now public, can he not come to the Lords to explain? I think that’s a very straightforward request.”
However Cabinet Office minister Lord True replied: “It’s for ministers to decide how to justify their actions and conduct, but I repeat that the assertions that have been made have been repudiated by Lord Goldsmith, by No 10 Downing Street and by the Defence Secretary."
Asked about the claims that he was involved in authorising 173 cats and dogs to be rescued, while many Afghans were left behind, the Prime Minister brushed it off as "total rhubarb".
Speaking on a visit to North Wales, Mr Johnson said: " No, that is… this whole thing is total rhubarb.
“I was very proud of what our armed services did with Op Pitting and it was an amazing thing to to move 15,000 people out of Kabul in the way that we did.
“I thought it was also additionally very good that we were able to help those vets who came out as well.
“But I can tell you that the military always prioritised human beings and that was quite right.
Mr Johnson's official spokesman later suggested that the Foreign Office official had been mistaken, saying: "It’s not uncommon in Whitehall for a decision to be interpreted or portrayed as coming directly from the Prime Minister even when that’s not the case and it’s our understanding that’s what happened in this instance."
Dominic Dyer, an animal rights campaigner who was involved in the Nowzad evacuation, has insisted the PM and his wife were involved in saving the animals and has urged them to take credit for their efforts.