Minister says emails wrong about UK PM authorising animals' Kabul evacuations
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played no part in authorising the evacuation of animals from Kabul during the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, and emails suggesting he did are wrong, a minister said on Wednesday.
Johnson, whose premiership is under immense pressure over allegations of parties at his Downing Street office during COVID-19 lockdowns, has dismissed as nonsense accusations that he intervened to ensure the safety of the Nowzad rescue charity's animals run by ex-British soldier Paul "Pen" Farthing.
The cats and dogs were rescued amid the chaotic scramble last August to help British nationals and Afghans eligible for resettlement in Britain leave Kabul after it fell to hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents, with critics saying it meant animals were given priority over people.
In an internal government email released by parliament's foreign affairs committee, a foreign office official, whose name is redacted, wrote: "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..."
In another email discussing a different charity's request for help, an official wrote: "In light of the PM's decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity, the (redacted name) is asking for agreement to the entry of (details redacted) staff, all Afghan nationals."
At the time, Johnson said he had no involvement in the evacuation of Farthing's animals. "No, that's complete nonsense," he said in December when asked if he had intervened in the case.
British defence minister Ben Wallace, whose department led the Kabul evacuation effort, echoed those words.
"Nothing to do with the prime minister," he said on Wednesday. "Never at any stage did he get in touch with me about it," adding that he did not know where the emails came from.
"They certainly don’t show the reality, which was I was in charge, the prime minister never asked me, it was nonsense," Wallace told BBC TV.
The plight of Farthing and his animals attracted much media attention in Britain, and during the evacuation led to a bitter row with Wallace who said he could not allow anyone to jump the queue and would not prioritise pets over people.
Opposition parties, who have been demanding Johnson's resignation over the alleged Downing Street parties during coronavirus lockdowns, said the emails also raised questions about his moral authority.
"Once again, the prime minister has been caught out lying about what he has been doing," Labour party defence spokesman John Healey said.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich)