Foreign Office Boss Admits It Was A Mistake To Holiday As Afghanistan Fell To Taliban

·2 min read
British and US military engaged in the evacuation of people out of Kabul, Afghanistan.  (Photo: MoD via PA Media)
British and US military engaged in the evacuation of people out of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: MoD via PA Media)

The head of the foreign office has admitted it was a mistake for him to remain on holiday as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

Sir Philip Barton said he had reflected on his annual leave and if he had his time again: “I would have come back earlier”.

The permanent under-secretary at the foreign office revealed he went on holiday on August 9 and only returned to work on the 26 - which was 11 days after Kabul fell.

He told the foreign affairs committee he regretted not coming back to help his colleagues.

“I have reflected a lot since August, on my leave, and if I had my time again I would have come back from my leave earlier than I did,” he said.

Philip Barton the permanent under-secretary at the foreign office. (Photo: THOMAS PETER via Getty Images)
Philip Barton the permanent under-secretary at the foreign office. (Photo: THOMAS PETER via Getty Images)

The senior civil servant said he had put in place cover arrangements, adding: “I stayed in touch with the department all the way through the period closely...through August.”

The then foreign secretary Dominic Raab was also on annual leave during that period.

Pressed on why Barton did not return to work when Raab did, he replied: “I reflected on that and if I had my time again, I would have come back from my leave earlier.”

Asked where he was during that period, he declined to go into it. He also declined to say when he booked his holiday.

Pushed on whether he was in the UK or abroad, he replied: “I was partly in the United Kingdom, partly not.”

Barton also admitted he had changed his holiday plans during a crisis before and said there was a “lesson” for him in all of this.

Tory MP Alicia Kearns told him: “I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s enough to say ‘mea culpa’.

“How in two weeks did at no point, you go, ‘I can’t, I have to go in and protect my people?’”

When Barton repeated his sentiments later during the exchange, Tory MP and chair Tom Tugendhat told him: “It sounds less credible every time you repeat it - it sounds platitudinous.”

Labour’s Chris Bryant added: “It just feels a bit scripted now.”

The committee heard how that by August 11 it was deemed the British embassy in Kabul was no longer safe and diplomats were relaying to London by August 13 that the Afghan government was unlikely to hold.

Also today the government faced tough questions over allegations made by a whistleblower.

A former diplomat claimed bureaucratic chaos, ministerial intervention and a short-hours culture in the foreign office led to “people being left to die at the hands of the Taliban”.

Downing Street was forced to deny claims that the prime minister intervened to rescue dogs during the evacuation of Afghanistan.

No10 said “at no point” did the PM intervene in the evacuation of animals as the country fell to the Taliban and the allegation was “entirely untrue”.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.


Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting