After a week of hostile briefings over his future as foreign secretary, Dominic Raab appeared before MPs this afternoon to face the music. As a blame game gets underway in Whitehall over the chaotic response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Raab has found himself in the firing line. One government source suggested his handling of the crisis meant he 'has about as much chance of being in a top four position by next spring as Arsenal' when it comes to a cabinet reshuffle. This afternoon, Raab came out swinging — defending his department's handling of the situation and pointing blame in the direction of others.
The session became rather heated at certain points — from Raab's inability to say how many eligible Afghans were left behind to his refusal to say when exactly he went on holiday. What emerged from the session was the foreign secretary's line of defence when it comes to how the UK was caught off guard. He said that he had held over 40 meetings or telephone calls where Afghanistan was on the agenda between mid-March and 30 August and used the fact he is embarking on a trip to the region to argue that as a 'modern foreign secretary' he is used to working abroad and remotely. Raab said that he hadn't missed a singly Cobra while away.
While he admitted developments in Afghanistan 'clearly caught us unawares in terms of the pace and scale of the Taliban’ surge, he said this was the result of military intelligence failures — the 'central' intelligence assessment was that Kabul would not fall this year. However, this defence was weakened by the committee chair Tom Tugendhat who read out a leaked Foreign Office risk report from July 21 warning of the collapse of Afghanistan. What's more, by the time Raab was on holiday, it didn't take a genius to work out the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and fast.
When speaking on foreign policy, Raab also appeared to be at pains to show that the UK's relationship with the US remains strong despite a fortnight of bitter anonymous briefings on the UK side in which ministers suggested the US President was 'gaga'. The foreign secretary said the UK's relationship with the US remains its most important. His comments too suggesting that the UK could adopt a similar stance to the US when it comes to a move away from nation building. He said the UK needs to reconcile 'ends with means' when it comes to the trade-offs and mission purpose.
Today's appearance had been billed by some as 'make or break' for the Raab. In the end, it was a testy appearance but not a disastrous one. However, Raab's continued refusal to engage with certain lines of questioning will do little to endear him to his internal critics within the Tory party.