Boris Johnson 'authorised Pen Farthing's animal evacuation from Afghanistan' despite previous denial

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Nowzad was founded by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine - Omar Sobhani/Reuters
Nowzad was founded by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine - Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Boris Johnson has been accused of intervening to allow animals to be evacuated from Afghanistan despite previously claiming it was “nonsense”.

On several occasions, the Prime Minister has denied that he instructed that Nowzad staff and animals were to be brought back to Britain during last year’s Operation Pitting evacuation, which took place in the midst of a Taliban takeover of Kabul.

However, in leaked email exchanges to the foreign affairs committee, an official in the private office of Lord Goldsmith, an environment minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), told colleagues 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”.

During the height of the evacuation mission, Paul “Pen” Farthing, who ran the Nowzad shelter, launched a campaign to get his staff and animals out of Afghanistan 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, with around 150 animals from Mr Farthing’s animal shelter evacuated from Kabul.

Pen Farthing, the former Royal Marine, succeeded in evacuating to the UK around 170 dogs and cats from an animal shelter in Afghanistan - Nowzad/PA Wire
Pen Farthing, the former Royal Marine, succeeded in evacuating to the UK around 170 dogs and cats from an animal shelter in Afghanistan - Nowzad/PA Wire

Speaking at the time of the evacuation, a defence source said: “This selfish charade has cost lives.”

Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan and now chairs the foreign affairs committee, also said at the time that his former interpreter asked him: “Why is my five-year-old worth less than your dog?”

However, when asked by reporters on December 7 last year if he had intervened in the evacuation, Mr Johnson said it was “complete nonsense”.

That same day during a lobby briefing for journalists the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman insisted Mr Johnson “didn’t instruct officials to take any particular course of action on that issue”.

The email evidence from Lord Goldsmith’s office was submitted to the committee by Raphael Marshall, who worked for the FCDO at the time, and has claimed the animals were evacuated following a direct instruction from Mr Johnson.

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”.

Mr Farthing used his submission to the committee to question Mr Marshall’s testimony, calling it “unverified”.

Responding to the leaked emails, Lord Goldsmith tweeted: “I did not authorise & do not support anything that would have put animals’ lives ahead of peoples’. My position, which I made clear publicly, was that the UK should prioritise evacuating people. I never discussed the Nowzad charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the PM.”

Meanwhile, Dominic Dyer, a wildlife campaigner 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.

During the evacuation, Mr Dyer insisted he called on Mr Johnson and his wife, Carrie, for help.

Speaking at the time he said: “Obviously I knew Carrie Johnson, I made it clear my concerns to her, no doubt she spoke to him (the Prime Minister).”

Asked whether he had gone directly to Mrs Johnson, he said: “Yes, yes. Carrie Johnson took the message forward.”

Mr Dyer said the emails published on Wednesday by the committee “vindicated” what he had previously set out.

He said: “I’m not certain why he didn’t feel he could explain his involvement in August at the end of this operation.”

John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said the emails meant Mr Johnson had “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.”

Mr Healey added: “In this case people were fleeing in terror as the Taliban took over Kabul and British Forces were putting their lives at risk. The Prime Minister was once again prioritising the wrong things and making the wrong calls.”

On Wednesday night, Downing Street continued to deny Mr Johnson’s involvement, with a spokesman insisting that “the Prime Minister had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting, including Nowzad staff and animals”.

He added: “At no point did the Prime Minister instruct staff to take any particular course of action on Nowzad.”

Ben Wallace, 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, Mr 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.”

It has been suggested that an individual misinterpreted a conversation between officials in the Cabinet Office and FCDO.

A source said: “It was absolutely not an instruction from the Prime Minister.”

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