Dominic Raab’s reckoning: can foreign secretary hold on to his job?

As Raab faces MPs, one senior government source thinks he is ‘toast’

Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab arriving at Downing Street earlier today
(Image credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

Dominic Raab faced a grilling from MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis after one insider predicted he will be “toast” in the next reshuffle.

The foreign secretary has faced calls for his resignation since the Taliban took control of Kabul last month, forcing the US, UK and other Western powers into a rushed, and ultimately deadly, evacuation of foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans.

Raab was accused of being “missing in action” by the opposition after it emerged that he was on holiday in Crete when the capital fell.

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The questions

The Commons committee, chaired by Tory MP and former soldier Tom Tugendhat, challenged Raab on the Foreign Office’s failure to foresee Kabul’s hasty collapse and organise the evacuation much earlier.

The foreign secretary “needs to explain why thousands of UK citizens and allies have been left behind despite 18 months’ warning of the need to leave”, said Neil Coyle, a Labour MP on the committee, earlier in the day.

“He certainly has questions to answer,” agreed The Times. Paperwork that identified employees was abandoned by British officials in their retreat, it appears opportunities to resettle vulnerable Afghans were “missed”, and thousands of emails from people seeking to leave have gone unread, said the paper.

MPs pressed Raab on how many people had been left behind in an almost two-hour session that came as UK intelligence chiefs were in talks with the Taliban in a bid to secure safe passage out of the country for those unable to fly out in the evacuation, which officially ended overnight.

The defence

The Times said “the last Western forces had not even left Kabul before the blame game began”, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace criticising the Foreign Office for the botched embassy evacuation and Raab hitting back at the Ministry of Defence’s failure to predict the speed of the Taliban takeover.

After being the “subject of a series of hostile briefings in recent days”, Raab yesterday attacked those who he said had been “toddling off” to the media “at a time of crisis”, reported The Telegraph.

Regarding the unread emails from people seeking to leave Afghanistan, Raab told Sky News that the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office were responsible for the two email accounts, not the Foreign Office.

Today, the foreign secretary repeatedly refused to say exactly what date he went on holiday, saying he would not engage with a political “fishing expedition”.

Asked if he ever considered or offered to resign over the crisis, he replied: “No, I considered getting on with the job of what has been a Herculean task of getting 17,000 people out and now focusing on getting out the remaining people.”

However, he was unable to put a number on the British nationals left behind, suggesting only that it was in the “low hundreds”.

Raab added that it was “regrettable” that documents from the embassy identifying local Afghans had not been destroyed, but that “all of those” who were named are now in the UK.

Intelligence had suggested that Kabul “would not fall this year”, said the foreign secretary, “something that was widely shared by Nato allies”.

The outcome

One senior government source has predicted that Raab will lose his job in the next Cabinet reshuffle, telling The Times: “I think he is toast.”

The Guardian noted that it is “rare for a select committee to meet during a parliamentary recess” and that many MPs were “predicting his performance would determine his chances of avoiding a humiliating demotion in a future cabinet reshuffle”.

So far Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson has said the PM has “full confidence” in Raab and there were “no plans” for a reshuffle.

Indeed, said Katy Balls in the i newspaper, “resignations or sackings have been rare” in the current government. “When Johnson sees a minister in trouble, rather than join the mob, he tends to do the opposite and back them up. One long-time ally of the Prime Minister describes it as ‘broken bird syndrome’,” she wrote.

While Raab’s competency is being questioned today, Downing Street’s trust in its foreign secretary remains, said Balls, and “with Rishi Sunak’s star increasingly seen as a threat in No. 10 to Johnson’s, the value of having a minister who poses little threat can’t be underestimated”.

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