Sketch: Dominic Raab flounders over Afghanistan grilling by MPs
If Dominic Raab did not yet fully appreciate the torment of being stranded, under threat, and desperately hoping that someone – anyone – might come to his rescue, his appearance before the foreign affairs select committee proved to be a painful corrective.
Through a mixture of bluster, obduracy, and time-honoured ignorance, the embattled foreign secretary invited more questions than he provided answers during his grilling by MPs over his handling of the UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Nearly 5,000 miles and a scattering of Scandi-style soft furnishings separate Portcullis House and Kabul. It is hard to say where Mr Raab would rather have been, as he found himself up the creek with a paddleboard.
Over the course of an hour-long emergency session, Mr Raab did little to counter the growing band of critics who insist he has risen to an office higher than his capabilities should allow.
Time and again, a man with the self-regard to contest the last Conservative leadership election was unable to clarify who he spoke to in Afghanistan, or when he spoke to them, as the situation in the country deteriorated at pace.
He could not say which aid organisations were on the ground, and seemed unfamiliar with acronyms which ought to be common knowledge among junior civil servants in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, let alone the minister in charge of them.
"When did you last update the NEO for Afghanstan?" the committee’s chair Tom Tugendhat asked.
A vacant look was Mr Raab’s chosen reply. "The non-combatant evacuation operation order for Afghanistan," Mr Tugendhat nudged him. Cue paper shuffling. “I’d have to check that,” Mr Raab said.
At one point, Mr Tugendhat referenced a July report detailing how the Taliban were embarking on a rapid advance.
“Sorry, what source was that?” Mr Raab asked. “Your principal risk report,” came Mr Tugendhat’s reply, its delivery drier than the Sistan basin.
Initially, Mr Raab sought to soften the tone, but as proceedings wore on, he became increasingly spiky and dismissive, particularly when the focus fell on him.
He insisted he would not be dragged into a “fishing expedition” over his decision to jet out to a five-star resort in Crete as Kabul fell. Presumably because the sea remains closed.
Elsewhere, he resorted to reading aloud from briefing papers, pointing out that between mid March to August 30, he had held “over 40 meetings or telephone calls” where Afghanistan was on the agenda.
“That was broadly every four days,” he pointed out, with the defensive air of someone who does not call their mother enough.
Mr Raab’s most helpful contributions took the form of an admission of his own incompetence.
He admitted the government was “not confident with any precision at all” about the number of people in need of evacuation remaining in Afghanistan.
His specificity extended only to putting the figure in “the low hundreds”. It was left to MPs to wonder whether that meant 110 people or 400.
After graciously submitting himself to scrutiny for a half hour longer than intended, Mr Raab was off, bound for the Middle East, having dismissed queries about his future as politicking.
He was, he told the committee, a man who is “constantly travelling”. His destination may not always be clear, but his trajectory is now beyond doubt.
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