Katy Balls

How much trouble is Dominic Raab in?

How much trouble is Dominic Raab in?
(Getty images)
Text settings

When MPs returned to parliament on Wednesday to debate the situation in Afghanistan, it was Joe Biden who received the most criticism during the debate. But a close second in the firing line was the UK Foreign Secretary. After Dominic Raab waited until Sunday night to fly back from his holiday in Crete, opposition MPs were quick to go on the attack. When Raab asked Starmer what he would do differently give the complexity of the situation, the Labour leader replied: 'I wouldn't go on holiday when Kabul was falling'. The SNP's Ian Blackford also joined in – suggesting Raab ought to be ashamed of himself.

While that strength of feeling isn't quite so strong in the Conservative parliamentary party, there is anger that Raab's holiday has made it easier for the UK government to come under attack for its response. MPs on recent calls with Raab over the assistance the UK is providing have been frustrated by the lack of concrete answers and how his team were caught on the hop. 

'Saying no-one could have foreseen this just doesn't add up,' says one of Raab's Tory colleagues. Meanwhile, Raab's decision not to pay credit to Tom Tugendhat's highly-praised speech in his closing remarks for the debate is being viewed by some One Nation Tories as bad manners. 

Now Raab is facing fresh questions over what he didn't do from his holiday. The Daily Mail reports that Foreign Office officials advised Raab on Friday to 'urgently' call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar to request assistance evacuating interpreters who had helped Britain. They said that a junior minister would hold less weight – but the job was passed on regardless. In response, the newspaper has urged Raab to consider his position. Labour is calling on Raab to resign.

Commenting on the story this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace played down the impact such a call would have had: 

'I don’t know about his phone call sheet, but last Friday, no: phone calls to a rapidly deteriorating Afghan government would not have made a blind bit of difference'. 

Yet as UK nationals and interpreters struggle to get to the airport now the Taliban have surrounded all entrances, it's hard to argue that advance notice would have been a bad thing. Besides, if it was already too late to help doesn't that weaken Raab's argument that no-one could have predicted events turning out as they did?

On his media round this morning, Wallace also defended Raab following reports of friction between the pair over the response. Yet suggestions of frustration between the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office over both the evacuation plan and the contingency plans first drawn up refuses to go away.  There is little expectation in government that Raab will be sacked from his role. Boris Johnson tends to support his ministers when they are in trouble – his instinct is not not give into media pressure or opposition attacks. Just look how he stood by Priti Patel and Gavin Williamson when both were facing calls to go.

With rumours of a reshuffle in the autumn, talk has moved to where Raab will switch brief. One of the things hurting the Foreign Secretary is that inside No. 10 he is generally viewed as a safe pair of hands: he deputised for Boris Johnson when he was in hospital with Covid. It means the current row has surprised Raab's supporters.