Behind the scenes

The curious case of Pen Farthing and the Afghan animal airlift 

Leaked emails suggest Boris Johnson did approve former marine’s evacuation

Boris Johnson is embroiled in yet another scandal as newly leaked Foreign Office emails suggest that he did in fact authorise the evacuation of 94 dogs and 68 cats from Afghanistan last year.

The Ministry of Defence has previously denied claims that the prime minister and his wife Carrie personally intervened in the effort to fly the animals out of Kabul when the Taliban seized control last August. 

The animal rescue mission was led by former Marine Paul Farthing, known as Pen, who set up the Nowzad animal shelter in Afghanistan after serving in the war in the mid-2000s.

Compromising emails 

Two heavily redacted emails supplied by whistleblower and former civil servant Raphael Marshall have been released by the cross-party foreign affairs select committee, prompting allegations that Johnson lied about his involvement in the evacuation. 

The first email, sent on 25 August by a Foreign Office official working in the private office of Zac Goldsmith, mentions a charity called Nowzad and adds that the “PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”. 

The email was sent to “another official responsible for collating exceptional cases for potential rescue after the Taliban takeover”, explained The Guardian. According to The Times, the request was later forwarded by another civil servant to the office of Dominic Raab – who was foreign secretary at the time – for his approval.

Today, Johnson again denied that he had anything to do with the airlift and said the idea that animals were prioritised over people was “total rhubarb”.

Goldsmith, who has been a joint Defra and Foreign Office minister since February 2020, said he “did not authorise” anything that would have placed animal lives above human lives. “I never discussed the Nowzad charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the PM,” he wrote on Twitter

The second email, sent later that same day, said that “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”.

When the prime minister was asked in December whether he had prioritised animals over the Afghan people in the evacuation of Kabul, he described the claim as “complete nonsense”.

Ben Wallace denies being lobbied

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has continued to deny that he was lobbied by the prime minister to evacuate the cats and dogs, despite animal rights activist Dominic Dyer suggesting that No. 10 ordered him to approve the flight.

“I was adamant I would put people before pets,” he told The Times. “No one jumped the queue. He was literally the last plane out. No one did anything other than open a gate for him at the end of the process. There was certainly no lobbying by the prime minister to me, who was in charge of the evacuation, to do so.” 

Wallace added that he is “aware of false claims made throughout by Nowzad that led to considerable distress and distraction to those trying to save lives in very difficult circumstances”. 

Carrie ‘had something to do with’ U-turn

Last August, Wallace had refused to allow Farthing’s animals to board one of the RAF flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport for safety reasons. They were eventually rescued on a charter plane – one of the last flights out of Kabul.

Wallace had initially resisted calls to approve the charter plane but changed his mind at the last minute, prompting Dyer – said to be a friend of Farthing and Carrie Johnson – to claim that the PM’s wife “most certainly had something to do with the change”, reported The Times back in August.

Dyer said that the prime minister must have had “very interesting conversations” with Wallace to reverse the decision.

At the time, the Daily Mail said the U-turn had raised questions “about the extent to which Mr Johnson is personally managing the evacuation, and the role his wife – an animal rights advocate who also encouraged the prime minister to pursue his green agenda – is playing in the Afghanistan crisis”.

No. 10 has continued to reject the claim that Carrie had anything to do with the evacuation and Johnson’s official spokesperson said today that “it remains the case that the PM didn’t instruct officials to take any particular course of action”.

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