A Cabinet minister has said she is “absolutely confident” that Boris Johnson did not personally authorise the evacuation of pets from Afghanistan.
The assurances come despite the emergence of a leaked email suggesting that the PM had “authorised” the evacuation of animals from Paul “Pen” Farthing’s Nowzad charity while thousands of people desperately tried to escape the Taliban takeover.
Johnson told reporters in December that the allegations were “complete nonsense”.
The wording of the Foreign Office (FCDO) email, released by the Commons foreign affairs committee yesterday, appears to directly contradict Johnson’s previous denials on the subject.
In the email, with the subject line “animal charity for evacuation from Kabul”, one official in Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith’s office says: “The PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated.”
But Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey rowed behind Johnson on Thursday, and appeared to lay the blame on others who will “claim the PM is involved in supporting their pet projects”.
She told Sky News: “The PM didn’t make any individual decisions about evacuations.
“A lot of people will claim that the PM is involved in supporting their particular pet projects but the PM said he wasn’t involved in individual decisions, that is what the defence secretary [Ben Wallace], who was in charge of Operation Pitting overall, has said as well.”
The UK’s evacuation from Afghanistan has been strongly criticised by government whistleblower Raphael Marshall, who called it “chaotic and dysfunctional”.
Marshall, who submitted the email to the committee, alleged that Johnson ordered animals from the Nowzad shelter also be rescued — potentially putting British troops’ lives at risk and preventing people from fleeing Kabul.
Former Royal Marine Farthing, who ran the shelter, launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out, using a plane funded through donations.
The British government-sponsored clearance for the charter flight, leading to accusations that dogs had been prioritised over people.
The emergence of the email comes at an already dangerous time for Johnson, whose political future is riding on a report into a spate of Downing Street parties by Whitehall enforcer Sue Gray.
The publication of Gray’s report has been complicated by the recent launch of a separate Scotland Yard investigation into the alleged gatherings.
It had been widely expected that the document would be handed to the prime minister on Wednesday, but a No.10 source confirmed to HuffPost UK that Gray had not handed over her report.
It is understood the report is being pored over by lawyers, the police and human resources officials before being handed to the prime minister.
Asked when she believed the report would be published, Coffey replied: “I really don’t know.
“I know the government has committed to publishing the full findings of the report but the timing I have absolutely know idea about.”
Coffey went on to say that the last party she had attended in Downing Street was to mark the moment the UK left the EU following the Brexit referendum.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.