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A man untroubled by shame: Dominic Raab wouldn’t leave his sun lounger to make a phone call

Recent history suggests that Boris Johnson hates sacking ministers, so it is unlikely he will heed demands from Labour and the Lib Dems to get rid of the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

But there is no doubt that Mr Raab has fouled up in a major way. He comes across as a rather arrogant and icy man, and is probably not much given to self-examination. He should take a hard look at himself.

Yesterday’s Mail revealed that when he was enjoying a luxurious holiday in the Greek island of Crete last Friday, the Foreign Secretary failed to make a crucial phone call to seek help to airlift translators out of Afghanistan.

He had been advised by senior Foreign Office officials that he should make immediate contact with the Afghan foreign minister, Haneef Atmar, as the Taliban closed in on the capital, Kabul.

I doubt Mr Raab will be asked to make many more important calls in his lifetime. The lives of many former interpreters who worked for the British were in jeopardy (and remain so), and he had a duty to ask the Afghan government to do whatever it could to look after them. But he didn’t pick up the phone.

Why? Why couldn’t Mr Raab get off his sunbed and make a call that just might have saved a few lives? 

Mr Raab (pictured) had been advised by senior Foreign Office officials that he should make immediate contact with the Afghan foreign minister, Haneef Atmar, as the Taliban closed in on the capital, Kabul.

Despite being told by Foreign Office officials that both U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin had already spoken to Mr Atmar, Mr Raab declined to do so.

He instead asked a junior Foreign Office minister, Lord Goldsmith, to telephone Mr Atmar. Evidently Mr Atmar refused to speak to someone whom he — somewhat vainly — regarded as being of inferior status, so there was a delay. 

We learnt yesterday that the call never took place because the Afghan regime collapsed.

Does Mr Raab feel a twinge of guilt? Or is he perfectly satisfied that he behaved exactly as Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State — that’s how he is described in our passports — is expected to?

It’s hard to be sure because, more than any other senior minister, this buttoned-up man appears to occupy another dimension in which common human attributes such as regret or humility or compassion are seldom discernible.

Is there any conceivable defence of his actions? One came yesterday from an unlikely source, with whom he is said not to be on the best of terms — Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Mr Wallace, who appears to be a more sympathetic soul, made the brave but not entirely convincing suggestion that Mr Raab’s failure to ring the Afghan foreign minister didn’t make ‘any difference whatsoever’, given that the Afghan government was ‘melting away quicker than ice’.

It’s true that it was. But did Mr Raab know on Friday, while he was at the five-star Amirandes Hotel with his family, that the Taliban would conquer Kabul two days later, on Sunday?

If he did, he should have got on a plane to London immediately to resume his official duties, and help cope with a huge international political crisis. He didn’t arrive back at Heathrow until the very early hours of Monday morning.

In fact, he should have come home earlier whether or not he feared the Afghan government’s impending downfall. 

And in either case he should have contacted its foreign minister in the hope that he might be able protect the lives of translators who have risked their lives by serving the British cause.

I suspect that, like everyone else, Mr Raab had no idea that Kabul was about to be overrun. Only last Tuesday, the Washington Post had reported what was presented as the scary view of U.S. intelligence sources that Kabul could fall within 90 days. It took just five.

Another defence of Mr Raab was made by the Foreign Office, which offered this explanation: ‘The Foreign Secretary was engaged on a range of other calls and this one was delegated to another minister.’

This is pretty risible. I don’t know what those other calls were, but it is hard to imagine that they were more pressing than the one he didn’t make to the Afghan foreign minister.

On Christmas Day 1944, Winston Churchill made a last-minute dash by air to Athens in perilous conditions — and ruined his family Christmas — in a largely successful attempt to save Greece from communism (Pictured: Churchill in Athens in 1944)

On Christmas Day 1944, Winston Churchill made a last-minute dash by air to Athens in perilous conditions — and ruined his family Christmas — in a largely successful attempt to save Greece from communism (Pictured: Churchill in Athens in 1944)

Is Dominic Raab really asking us to believe that he couldn’t find five minutes on Friday to speak to Mr Atmar? 

It’s not as if he had to get through to the man himself. That sort of thing is done for foreign secretaries by functionaries. He only had to talk, but couldn’t find the time for that.

I’m afraid that the only conclusion I can draw is that Mr Raab simply did not care enough about Afghan translators to make that call. What other interpretation is there?

This, of course, is part of a pattern. For at least six years this newspaper has campaigned on behalf of these translators, without whom the British Army could not have operated in Afghanistan.

Bit by bit, and painfully slowly, the Government and the Foreign Office have glimpsed the light, so that increasing numbers of translators were gradually allowed to come to Britain.

But not enough. Despite all the warnings and pleadings, rigid and unimaginative bureaucracy has continued to thwart the justifiable claims of hundreds of Afghans who remain in their country. Which is why we learn every day of their terrible misfortunes.

Dominic Raab was given a last-minute chance to do something. He might not have been able to achieve much at the eleventh hour, since the Afghan regime was on the verge of collapse, but he could at least have shown that he, and the British Government, have a heart. He failed.

I don’t at all resent his luxurious holiday, or even the fact that he took it abroad after some ministers appeared to discourage us from doing so. 

I expect he works hard and he deserved a break. However, people who accept great responsibilities shouldn’t turn their backs on duty even when they are relaxing.

On Christmas Day 1944, Winston Churchill made a last-minute dash by air to Athens in perilous conditions — and ruined his family Christmas — in a largely successful attempt to save Greece from communism. There’s duty for you.

In the infinitely more agreeable surroundings of a lovely Cretan hotel in a wholly different Greece, our present Foreign Secretary wouldn’t make a last-ditch attempt to try to save brave Afghans who have served this country.

Sir Keir Starmer and Labour are howling for his resignation, as oppositions are almost bound to do. They are being at least partly opportunistic. I wonder how much they really care about the Afghan translators. They certainly haven’t given much sign of doing so in the past.

I don’t imagine Boris Johnson will sack Mr Raab, but I hope that, come the next Cabinet re-shuffle, he will move him into a role where his apparent lack of human empathy will be less of a disadvantage, and his obvious intellectual gifts may be of some use.

Walking into Downing Street yesterday morning, the Foreign Secretary was asked whether he would resign. ‘No,’ he replied, trenchantly. We can be sure we won’t be getting any apology from Dominic Raab, and almost as certain that this haughty man is not troubled by shame.


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