By Amy Cassidy and Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s credibility was once again thrown into doubt on Wednesday, after leaked emails appeared to contradict his claim of having no involvement in the evacuation of animals from a British charity in Afghanistan as the country fell to the Taliban and people were scrambling to find a way out.
The release of emails by a cross-party parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs prompted claims that Britain’s embattled leader had lied, at a time when he is already facing accusations of misleading Parliament over Covid-19 possibly rule-busting parties at Downing Street, which are now the subject of a police investigation.
Suggestions that vital resources were used to rescue animals instead of people at Johnson’s request have been circulating for months, after tweets on the issue from the UK Defense Secretary in August and then in written testimony from an ex-UK Foreign Office staffer, who detailed the UK’s “dysfunctional” and “chaotic” evacuation effort. In December, the Prime Minister dismissed the allegation as “complete nonsense.”
But emails published by Parliament on Wednesday, supplied by the whistleblower Raphael Marshall as evidence in an ongoing inquiry into the UK’s messy Afghanistan exit, paint a different picture.
One email, sent by a Foreign Office official on August 25 at 12:20 p.m. local time, states that “The PM” had just “authorized” the evacuation of staff and animals from Nowzad, a charity run by former British Royal Marines Cmdr. Pen Farthing, while lobbying a colleague to help with evacuations for another animal charity.
“Equivalent charity Nowzad, run by an ex-Royal Marine, has received a lot of publicity and the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated, [animal charity — name redacted] are hoping to be treated in the same capacity (granted LOTR),” the email reads, referring to permission to leave outside the rules of immigration.
A second email, sent between Foreign Office officials later that day, references the “PM’s decision” to evacuate Nowzad staff, but doesn’t mention animals.
“In light of the PM’s decision earlier today to evacuate the staff of the Nowzad animal charity, the [animal charity — name redacted] (another animal rights NGO) is asking for agreement to the entry of [details redacted] staff, all Afghan nationals,” it reads.
On its website, Nowzad confirms that its founder, Farthing, was rescued from Afghanistan with the organization’s staff and their immediate families, along with 94 dogs and 68 cats. In a statement responding to the leaked emails, Nowzad said it had no insight into how the decision was made to evacuate their animals and it is “appalled to find ourselves at the centre of a political media debate on who did what and when” in relation to the evacuation. It said Farthing had also submitted evidence to the select committee.
Downing Street has continued to deny that Johnson had any involvement in evacuating more than 150 animals, while evacuation requests from thousands of desperate Afghans went unfilled.
“It remains the case that the PM didn’t instruct officials on this case,” a Downing Street press officer said Wednesday.
The revelations mark the latest blow to Johnson, who is clinging to power despite drowning in scandals — among them, being accused of lying to Parliament over his knowledge of gatherings held at Downing Street during lockdown.
Opposition lawmaker John Healey tweeted Wednesday: “Once again, the PM has been caught out lying. He should never have given priority to flying animals out of Afghanistan while Afghans who worked for our forces were left behind.”
“We need to know why the PM overruled the Defense Secretary with this decision,” Healey said.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace had publicly said people must be prioritized when the military was in the midst of evacuating thousands at risk. But that changed suddenly on August 25, when Wallace announced on Twitter that they had been given the green light.
Once authorization was given, he tweeted “those most at risk” would continue to be processed first, adding, “no one has the right in this humanitarian crisis to jump the queue.”
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