Dominic Raab has refused to offer further details about his Crete holiday when pressed at least nine times by MPs, labelling the questions a “fishing expedition”.
As he faced questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Foreign Secretary was also told it was a “bad idea” for him, the Prime Minister and high-ranking Government officials to all take holiday while Kabul was seized by the Taliban.
Members of the committee repeatedly pressed Mr Raab to tell them when he went on holiday, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant asking him three times, and SNP MP Stewart Malcolm McDonald asking him on six occasions.
Mr Bryant said: “On August 11, the US said the Taliban were likely to seize the whole country, it was just a question of how long it was going to take. Were you already on holiday?”
Mr Raab said the central assessment judged there would be Taliban “consolidation of power” but it would take place in the “months following the evacuation”.
Mr Bryant pressed Mr Raab on his holiday, with the minister repeating he “would not have gone away, with the benefit of hindsight”, before insisting: “I am not going to start adding to, frankly, the fishing expedition beyond the facts that I have articulated and the fulsome statement and having answered questions on this continuously.”
The Foreign Secretary also faced questions about how his Government department, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) administered the evacuation from the UK.
SNP MP Mr McDonald said military personnel involved in the evacuation from Kabul had been asked to cancel all leave on July 23.
“Did you initiate a similar process for the Foreign Office?” he asked the Foreign Secretary.
Mr Raab replied: “No, what I did was make sure that we had cover, a decent rota, specifically because we didn’t know for how long this would endure.
“Of course, we were pressing for an extension of the window, in which case you need to make sure with emergency responses and indeed your team theatre that you are able to resource those properly but also make sure you can maintain it. Otherwise you have got a much greater risk of mistakes.”
Mr McDonald added: “I think many would think that if all military leave was cancelled on July 23 it is a bad idea for yourself, the Prime Minister and several other officials in the FCDO, the Home Office and the MoD to take breaks at that time.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman Tom Tugendhat asked: “Are you content that the shift patterns, the rotas, the effort that was put in the UK – not just in Afghanistan – but in the crisis centre in the UK matched the requirement of the operation?”
Mr Raab replied: “Yes, and we looked at it and I looked at it on a number of occasions to make sure, and I spoke to the director general, the Home Secretary, to make sure – do we need extra resource allocated?
“I was constantly thinking, ‘Is there more we can do?’ But the real challenge in a narrow window was the safety and security of Kabul airport.”
Mr Raab faced strong criticism for not returning from Crete when the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate and the Taliban took control of Kabul.
He has said he left to return to the UK on Sunday August 15, and that he was “working tirelessly” throughout that period despite being out of the country.
Mr Raab faced accusations in the media of paddle boarding and swimming at the beach on the last day of his holiday, but following his return to the UK, he described these accusations as “absolute nonsense”.