Zac Goldsmith: official who stated PM cleared Kabul pet rescue was ‘mistaken’

The Guardian
The Guardian
Zac Goldsmith Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Zac Goldsmith has insisted that an official who worked in his private office was mistaken when they emailed last August to say Boris Johnson had authorised the rescue of Pen Farthing and his charity’s cats and dogs from Kabul.

The Foreign Office minister told the House of Lords the email “was not sent under my instruction” and that the decision to clear Farthing’s flight had in fact been “communicated by the defence secretary publicly in tweets” on 25 August.

Goldsmith was facing questions over the evacuation of the former Royal Marine, a week after an email from a Foreign Office official dated 25 August, had declared “the PM has just authorised” staff and animals of Farthing’s Nowzad welfare charity to be airlifted to the UK.

The minister told peers “I don’t deny that there is some confusion”, but that he believed the official had misrepresented the situation. “It’s not uncommon in Whitehall … for decisions to be interpreted or portrayed as coming directly from one department or another, even the prime minister, even when that isn’t the case,” he said.

Controversy about the rescue of Farthing and his charity’s cats and dogs from Kabul has lingered for months, amid accusations that it amounted to the prioritisation of “pets over people”. An ally of Farthing, the lobbyist Dominic Dyer, has said repeatedly he understood the prime minister cleared a privately funded rescue flight.

But Johnson and Downing Street have denied they gave permission for Farthing’s plane to land, leading to a row that has raised further questions about the prime minister’s integrity. Johnson insisted last week that “this whole thing is total rhubarb”, while Labour said he had been “caught out lying”.

Goldsmith told the Lords that “animals were never prioritised over people at any time” during the fortnight-long emergency airlift from Kabul. Johnson had “zero role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan”, he said.

The Labour peer Lord Collins was sceptical, and asked: “Why is it someone in his private office believed that the decision to facilitate this effectuation by animals was approved by the prime minister? It’s his private office?”

In his answer, Goldsmith said the Foreign Office official in question was seconded at the time to the emergency evacuations unit. “The email was not sent under my instruction. It was not sent with my knowledge. It was part of a wider process,” he said.

Farthing had been notified last August that the rescue had been approved by the prime minister’s parliamentary private secretary Trudy Harrison. The MP had written, in a letter that subsequently leaked , that “I have received confirmation … that you, your staff and their dependents are permitted to travel”. It was signed using her official title.

No 10, however, said at the time that she was writing “in her capacity as a constituency MP”, although Farthing was not a constituent of hers.

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