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Second whistleblower says decision to evacuate Afghan animals came from Johnson

The Prime Minister previously said it was ‘complete nonsense’ to suggest he was involved.

21 March 2022

A second Foreign Office whistleblower has backed up claims that Boris Johnson was directly involved in the decision to evacuate cats and dogs from Afghanistan.

The evacuation of animals from the Nowzad charity sparked controversy last year as thousands of people trying to flee the Taliban after the fall of Kabul were left behind.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly denied he was directly involved in the decision to bring the animals out of the country, saying the claims were “complete nonsense”, despite emails and whistleblower evidence suggesting the opposite.

Raphael Marshall, who worked for the Foreign Office at the time, previously gave evidence and revealed an email showing an official in Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith’s private office telling colleagues on August 25 that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

A second Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) civil servant has now given evidence to a Commons committee backing up the claims, prompting Labour to brand Mr Johnson a “serial liar”.

Josie Stewart, who has worked for the FCDO since 2015 including for the British Embassy in Kabul, said she expected she would lose her job for the revelations.

Ms Stewart, a senior staff member, volunteered on the Afghanistan response and worked on the special cases team where those potentially eligible to come to the UK were assessed on an individual basis.

She said: “It was widespread ‘knowledge’ in the FCDO crisis centre that the decision on Nowzad’s Afghan staff came from the Prime Minister.”

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
Pen Farthing, founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad (Nowzad/PA)

Ms Stewart told the Foreign Affairs Committee she “saw messages to this effect on Microsoft Teams, I heard it discussed in the crisis centre including by senior civil servants, and I was copied on numerous emails which clearly suggested this”.

She said no one challenged this, including Nigel Casey, the Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Mr Casey has claimed that after checking his emails he “could not find any that referred to any prime ministerial intervention on the subject of Nowzad”.

But Ms Stewart said that “when I searched my emails for ‘PM’ and ‘Nowzad’ I found more than one email referencing ‘the PM’s decision on Nowzad’ and with Nigel Casey in copy”.

Mr Johnson and ministers have repeatedly denied that the premier had any involvement in the evacuation of the animals from Kabul.

Operation Pitting Medal
The evacuation of personnel from Kabul airport (LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA)

In response to the latest claims, Downing Street again said Mr Johnson had no role in authorising individual evacuations.

“As the Defence Secretary and other ministers have made clear, Ben Wallace was responsible for the decision to allow Nowzad staff and animals to come forward for evacuation,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“The PM has made clear he had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting including Nowzad staff and animals.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the revelations were “further confirmation that the Prime Minister put the lives of animals ahead of humans on a personal whim and then lied about doing so”.

Ms Stewart also said civil servants, including FCDO permanent under-secretary Sir Philip Barton, had “intentionally lied” to the Commons committee.

Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Sir Philip Barton giving evidence on the evacuation from Afghanistan to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (House of Commons/PA)

“It is possible, although it would be surprising, that neither Philip Barton nor Nigel Casey remembered seeing the emails about supposed PM involvement on the day they were sent,” she said.

“I cannot see how it is possible that they would not have found the extensive evidence of this when asked about it later.”

She said Mr Casey must have either deleted his emails, against instructions, did not know how to use the search function in Outlook email, “found the emails but somehow concluded they were not relevant”, or “he was lying”.

Appearing before the committee later in the day, Sir Philip and Mr Casey defended their actions, accepting they had misled the MPs but insisted they had done so inadvertently.

Mr Casey apologised “wholeheartedly” and accepted that it is possible he deleted the emails in question, while his inbox was “exploding” with requests during the evacuation.

He said he understood why Ms Stewart and Mr Marshall believe “in good faith” that Mr Johnson had authorised the decision, but Mr Casey and Sir Philip insisted they still do not know where it came from.

Two MPs on the committee – Labour’s Chris Bryant and Tory Alicia Kearns – said they struggled to believe the pair’s account.

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