Dominic Raab has denied claims that he did not speak to ministers in Afghanistan and Pakistan for months ahead of the evacuation crisis, describing them as “not credible and deeply irresponsible”.
The Sunday Times reported that the Foreign Secretary had “shown no interest” in taking calls from either country’s government in the six months before the evacuation.
The newspaper cited an unnamed Pakistani official, who said Mr Raab had thought of Afghanistan as “yesterday’s war”.
On Tuesday, Mr Raab hit back at the claims, and said there had been a “team effort” across the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to communicate with the two countries.
Mr Raab told Sky News: “Anyone that is toddling off to the Sunday Times or any other newspaper at a time of crisis, including the evacuation which has been two weeks running, giving buck-passing briefings either at me or the FCDO is, frankly, not credible and it is deeply irresponsible.”
The Cabinet minister added that he had spoken to Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi “more intensively given the evacuation” and defended the Foreign Office’s record in Afghanistan, because it has supported the evacuation of 17,000 people since April.
However, he was unable to name any time before the last few weeks in which he had spoken to ministers from either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
He told LBC: “I can’t tell you my precise call sheet for the last six months.”
But he said he was part of a “team of ministers” and delegated phone calls to colleagues, including Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who had led the UK’s relationship with the Afghan government.
Mr Raab added: “It is right that you have delegation, a division of labour, if you are going to operate effectively as a team. Anyone who tells you otherwise has not done a job like this.”
The Foreign Office told the Sunday Times that Mr Raab had spoken to Pakistani minister Mr Qureshi on August 22 and August 27, but could not cite any earlier conversations between the two men in the last six months.
It instead said that Lord Ahmad was responsible for communicating with Pakistan and Afghanistan as the minister for South Asia.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith described criticism of Mr Raab’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “childish and pathetic”.
Speaking on LBC, Sir Iain said: “A lot of the briefing against Dominic Raab is rather childish and pathetic, during the course of a crisis where you want this thing settled.
“You don’t want to have a debate about whether somebody should be there or not there, as long as they’re doing their job and you want them to get on with that job.”
Mr Raab faced criticism for not returning early from his holiday in Crete earlier this month, as Kabul was seized by the Taliban.
The Foreign Secretary has said that “with hindsight” he would have abandoned his holiday sooner.