Dominic Raab has faced calls to resign for not interrupting his “luxury” holiday to make a call to help translators flee Afghanistan.
The Foreign Secretary was reportedly “unavailable” when officials in his department suggested he “urgently” call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar on Friday – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – in order to arrange help for those who supported British troops.
The Daily Mail added the Afghan foreign ministry then refused to arrange a call with a junior minister, pushing it back to the next day.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace argued the suggested phone call from Mr Raab to his Afghan counterpart would not have made “any difference whatsoever” given the Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice”.
What could possibly be more important than protecting two decades of sacrifice and hard-won victories in Afghanistan?
The Foreign Secretary should be ashamed https://t.co/cvLu5bjao6
— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) August 19, 2021
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, writing on Twitter, said: “Who wouldn’t make a phone call if they were told it could save somebody’s life?”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy added: “The Foreign Secretary should be ashamed and the Prime Minister has serious questions to answer over why he remains in the job.”
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran said: “Dominic Raab must resign today. If he does not, the Prime Minister should finally show some leadership, and sack him.
“Right now, there are interpreters across Afghanistan who are surrounded by the Taliban and fearing the worst. All the Foreign Secretary had to do was leave the beach and pick up the phone. He did not.
“He has shamed Britain and is no longer fit to represent our country.”
A former translator, a British citizen who gave his name as Rafi, 35, accused Mr Raab of “failing” to provide protection for the families of interpreters in Afghanistan.
He told the PA news agency: “If he didn’t make the call, I’m shocked. How could somebody do something like that in this chaotic situation?
“The interpreters and their families could be killed at any time.”
Mr Raab was holidaying on the Greek island of Crete and said to be staying at the Amirandes Hotel.
The five-star venue describes itself as a “boutique resort” which is “styled after the sprawling palaces of the Minoan kings and Venetian nobles who once ruled Crete” and offers “the easy elegance of true European luxury”.
For the Government, Mr Wallace told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “Last Friday, the Afghan government was melting away quicker than ice and a phone call to an Afghan minister at that moment in time would have not made a difference.
“I do know for sure because last Friday, what we were absolutely worried about and were unsure about is whether the airport would remain open. That was at the front of everyone’s mind.
“Without an a functioning airport, we were going to get nobody out no matter how many phone calls you made to a disappearing government, I can tell you that for sure.
“You can speculate whether the phone call should or shouldn’t have been made, but it wouldn’t have been a blind bit of difference.”
Mr Raab earlier this week insisted he was “engaged in Cobra, talking to foreign counterparts, directly speaking to the head of our team here in London, I was doing that on an hour-by-hour basis and, of course, I left as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it”.
Elsewhere, the UK is launching a diplomatic push to encourage allies to join it in offering to take in Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban regime.
The Government has announced Britain will take up to 20,000 people wanting to exit Afghanistan as part of its resettlement scheme, with 5,000 due to be accepted in the next 12 months.
Downing Street said the Government will be encouraging international partners to emulate “one of the most generous asylum schemes in British history” – but Labour said the offer was not bold enough.
Mr Raab is due to speak with fellow G7 ministers on Thursday to discuss international co-operation before leaders of the group – which, as well as the UK, includes the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy – hold a virtual meeting next week.
He also held talks on Wednesday evening with his counterparts in India and the US – the second time he has spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week.
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said Foreign Office personnel were hoping to get “at least” 1,000 people out of the country every day – but warned there were “days, not weeks” left to complete the mission.