UK FM during botched Kabul withdrawal ‘blocked’ talks with senior staff, sources say

While serving as foreign secretary during the August 2021 withdrawal, Raab reportedly refused to communicate with a number of senior officials. (Reuters/File Photo)
While serving as foreign secretary during the August 2021 withdrawal, Raab reportedly refused to communicate with a number of senior officials. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 19 November 2022
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UK FM during botched Kabul withdrawal ‘blocked’ talks with senior staff, sources say

UK FM during botched Kabul withdrawal ‘blocked’ talks with senior staff, sources say
  • Dominic Raab ignored ‘time-wasters,’ threatened sackings while holidaying during height of crisis, insiders tell The Guardian
  • Number of officials took mental-health leave following ‘chaotic’ episode

LONDON: UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s conduct during Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 led to significant delays and compounded the chaos of the evacuation, sources have told The Guardian newspaper.

While serving as foreign secretary during the August 2021 withdrawal, Raab reportedly refused to communicate with a number of senior officials responsible for handling aspects of the withdrawal.

Raab considered the staff “time-wasters,” and allegedly ignored urgent emails detailing critical aspects of the Afghanistan strategy.

As a result of the botched withdrawal, Raab was reassigned to the post of justice secretary in a matter of weeks. He is now facing an investigation over two formal complaints submitted by civil servants who worked alongside him in the UK Foreign Office and Ministry of Justice.

Senior sources told The Guardian: “We couldn’t get him to listen to this message, let alone act on it.

“This blockage was very costly. Decisions that should have taken hours took days or simply did not happen.

“(Raab) was determined to cut off routes for communication for those he found to be challenging voices.”

Instead, the then-foreign secretary formed a makeshift group of senior staff that he considered “worthwhile” to handle the withdrawal, with only members of that group able to communicate with him, the sources explained, adding: “Failure for him to reply to many things during Afghanistan were detrimental.”

During the height of the crisis, Raab was on holiday and reportedly opened communication to all officials inside the Foreign Office.

But the episode led to an argument with a senior official, Nigel Casey, had a “long-lasting impact” on the work environment after Raab threatened to sack him, a source said.

A number of staff working under Raab took mental-health leave from work as a result of the Afghanistan debacle, sources told The Guardian.

“The combination of the pressure of work and unreasonable deadlines has had such an impact on some colleagues’ mental and physical health that they have visited their GPs, and some have subsequently been signed off work for extended periods of time,” a formal complaint stated.

However, Raab has denied the allegations, claiming that a senior aide was responsible for delegating communication access with Foreign Office staff.

The deputy prime minister said that he is “looking forward” to addressing the complaints in front of a committee on Nov. 22.

“I have never tolerated bullying, and always sought to reinforce and empower the teams of civil servants working in my respective departments,” he said.