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Boris Johnson has been accused of lying about the hand he played in the evacuation of an animal welfare charity from Afghanistan after emails surfaced suggesting he “authorised” UK assistance.
The Prime Minister has previously denied that he intervened to bring Nowzad staff and animals to Britain during the Allied withdrawal in August, which was taking place amid a Taliban takeover of Kabul.
But after a whistleblower leaked email exchanges to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, political rivals have accused the Conservative Party leader of failing to tell the truth.
The evidence published on Wednesday shows an official in the private office of Lord Goldsmith – a joint Foreign Office and environment minister – told colleagues working on the evacuation on August 25 that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”, in reference to “charity Nowzad, run by an ex-Royal Marine”.
Paul “Pen” Farthing, who ran the Nowzad shelter, launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out of Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul, using a plane funded through donations.
The UK Government sponsored clearance for the charter flight, leading to allegations that animals had been prioritised over people in the rescue effort.
Labour said the latest development is fresh evidence that Mr Johnson had failed to come clean over how Nowzad exited Afghanistan during the summer withdrawal.
Asked by reporters on December 7 if he had intervened in the evacuation, Mr Johnson described the suggestion as “complete nonsense”.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said on Wednesday: “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.”
Speaking in the Commons, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran raised concerns about the “discrepancy between what the Prime Minister says to journalists versus what is revealed” in Parliament.
Issuing a separate statement, Ms Moran called for Mr Johnson to “immediately make a public statement to correct the record and for once tell the truth”.
The email evidence from Lord Goldsmith’s office was submitted to the committee by Raphael Marshall, who worked for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) at the time and has claimed the animals were evacuated following a direct instruction from the Prime Minister.
Mr Marshall, offering his own evidence in writing to MPs, said multiple colleagues wrote on the Teams message system that the Prime Minister had given an instruction to “call-forward Nowzad’s staff for evacuation”.
The @nowzad statement is published here on the recently leaked emails from government. Might be worth the press actually reading it before continuing to post false facts about #operationark or me https://t.co/xvNsdF5jEi
— Pen Farthing (@PenFarthing) January 26, 2022
Mr Farthing used his submission to the committee to question Mr Marshall’s testimony, calling it “unverified”.
In a four-page document, the veteran said “no HMG capacity was used to transport any animals” and Nowzad “never ever asked anyone to prioritise our staff”.
Nowzad, in a follow-on statement, said: “As a charity, we had no oversight of any communication between any Government departments relating to who authorised the call forward of the Nowzad staff.”
It said only Mr Farthing, with his animals “in the cargo hold”, was able to leave Kabul in a chartered flight, with 67 Afghan staff and vets evacuated “by road to start new lives” in Britain.
The organisation said “no British military were put in harm’s way” and that the animal rescue occurred “after the British military had already ended Operation Pitting”.
Meanwhile, Dominic Dyer, who led the political lobbying campaign from the UK for Nowzad to be offered support, said Mr Johnson’s refusal to acknowledge his role in the evacuation had “tarnished” the campaign.
Mr Dyer said the emails published by the committee “vindicated” what he had previously set out, and argued the Prime Minister could be “very proud of giving support to this as a humanitarian rescue mission”.
He told the PA news agency: “I’m not certain why he didn’t feel he could explain his involvement in August at the end of this operation.
“I don’t know why, and I don’t know why this was allowed to turn into such a big political football, for the Ministry of Defence to fall out with the Foreign Office and for Downing Street to say it had no role in it.
“It has tarnished what has been a very important operation that had huge public support, and I think that’s a sad indictment of our political system at the moment, which the Prime Minister presides over, to be quite frank.”
A Downing Street spokesman said on Wednesday: “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.”
The Defence Secretary stressed that “at no point” was he or Admiral Sir Ben Key, the Chief of Joint Operations of Operation Pitting, “directed by the Prime Minister to evacuate Pen Farthing, his workforce or his pets”.
In a statement, Ben Wallace added: “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.
“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.”
Tory peer Lord Goldsmith said in a Twitter post that he never discussed the Nowzad animal rescue effort with Mr Johnson.