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Boris Johnson said claims that he approved a controversial airlift of animals from the collapse of Afghanistan for a charity that lobbied his wife were “total rhubarb” today, as he faced new questions about his and Carrie’s roles.
The prime minister used the eccentric phrase when he faced attacks for the assistance offered to former soldier Paul Farthing and his organization Nowzad when Kabul was abandoned to the Taliban.
Last year, Johnson denied intervening after Nowzad contacted Ms. Johnson directly for help. But emails released yesterday showed that she ordered official help directed to him.
Critics have raised concerns that the animals were helped out of the country at the expense of locals who had worked for the UK and faced reprisals from Islamic extremists.
But today, speaking to broadcasters in North Wales, he said: ‘This is all rhubarb absolute.’
Lord Goldsmith, a Foreign Office minister and a friend of Carrie Johnson, insisted last night that he did not discuss the rescue efforts with the prime minister and appeared to be trying to blame the senior Foreign Office official who wrote the emails.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, sparked anger when he accused Labor of “caring about some animals”.
Amid questions about the prime minister’s wife’s role in the controversies, one of his former allies, former Brexit minister Lord Frost, appeared to criticize her influence today.
Writing on Twitter, he praised a newspaper column that suggested the prime minister distance himself from the “green fanatics” around him.
Ms Johnson is known to support environmental causes and works for a conversation charity.
Johnson’s position was further weakened last night after it was revealed that one of his top political advisers tried to charter a plane to help remove Nowzad last August.
Trudy Harrison, then Johnson’s Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS), contacted a private charter company, and a company source told the broadcaster it was implied she was acting with the backing of the Prime Minister.
Ms Harrison previously wrote to Mr Farthing, who ran the Nowzad shelter, to inform him that the evacuation would continue.
She told Sky News on Wednesday that she had contacted the companies and told staff that she was a PPS for Johnson, but was acting as a constituency MP and that Johnson was not involved in plans related to the evacuation.
Meanwhile, Lord Goldsmith, a former MP who was given a peerage after losing his Richmond Park seat in the 2019 election, also rowed behind the prime minister and his wife.
Emails published yesterday by the Foreign Affairs Committee quoted an official in his office as telling an official in his department that “the prime minister has just authorized the evacuation of his staff and animals.”
That official then sent another message to other mandarins, saying: ‘Given the Prime Minister’s Nowzad decision, the Foreign Secretary might consider that [details redacted] veterans and their dependents should be included. They may be able to get to the airport with their dependents on time,” the emails said.
But Goldsmith, a billionaire who lent his lavish Spanish estate to the prime minister for a controversial holiday last year, said: “I did not authorize or support anything that would have put the lives of animals before people.”
“My position, which I made clear publicly, was that the UK should prioritize evacuating people. I never discussed the Nowzad charity or its efforts to evacuate animals with the prime minister.
Number 10 also sought to blame officials for making it appear that the prime minister had been involved in Nowzad’s decision.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is not uncommon in Whitehall for decisions to be interpreted or represented as coming directly from the Prime Minister, even when that is not the case.”
“And we understand that that is what happened in this case. We appreciate that it was a hectic time for the officials dealing with this situation, but that is our understanding of what happened in this case.”
- Friend of Carrie Johnson says he did not discuss giving help to Nowzad with PM
- Officials in his department referenced ‘the PM’s Nowzad decision’ in emails
- MP Trudy Harrison tried to hirer a charter flight for Pen Farthing’s organisation
- But PM’s aide said she was only acting in her role as MP for area of Cumbria