PM’s failure to back him suggests apocalypse some time soon for Raab

에스poiled for choice. On hearing that Boris Johnson was giving a Commons statement on Afghanistan, most MPs had been quick to spot the upside of being spared the ordeal of Dominic Raab again sounding baffled that Afghanistan fell under his brief in a statement of his own.

After all, during his two-hour session in front of the foreign affairs select committee last Wednesday, Dom had managed – in between blaming everyone else for his own failings – to make out as if it was a major imposition to be expected to do his job. Perhaps he still hasn’t come to terms with cutting short his hols. He even claimed he had simultaneously been completely prepared for the Taliban takeover and totally surprised by it. Schrödinger’s war.

But Raab was not to be denied. Now that he had discovered where 아프가니스탄 였다, having spent the tail end of the previous week visiting close neighbours Qatar and Pakistan and travelling by helicopter – he loved the smell of napalm in the morning – he wanted his turn at the dispatch box. Who knows, it might even be his last chance if the reshuffle rumours were true.

So even if he had nothing more to say other than it might have been better to go to the area much earlier when both Donald Trump and Joe Biden had signalled their intent to withdraw US troops – something most people had already worked out for themselves – he was going to take up an hour of Commons time to say it. Just to remind himself he was still alive with two connecting synapses. In future it might be helpful if foreign secretaries were given a list of all the countries in the world when they are first put in charge of their department. Just to avoid any confusion. A map should do it.

So two statements on Afghanistan it was, with Johnson going first. Purely out of seniority rather than importance. His statement was certainly no more informative and was, 만약 무엇이든, slightly more tawdry. Johnson’s only previous notable intervention in Afghanistan was when he was foreign secretary and had flown to Kabul on a pointless awayday, the sole purpose of which had been to get him out of breaking a three-line whip on a vote about Heathrow expansion.

Otherwise the country had barely seemed to register on Boris’s consciousness. The Afghans were just more collateral in the long queue of people to whom he would inevitably break his promises. Letting people down is what the prime minister does. To friends, family and strangers alike. When he finds himself cornered, his first instinct is to betray. And watching Johnson making his excuses while refusing to accept any responsibility gets both depressing and wearing after a while.

Sure enough, Boris began to rewrite history as he heralded the evacuation of Kabul as a major success. Even going so far to say that the legacy of the western occupation would endure long after the troops had left the country. Keir Starmer observed that it seemed to have escaped the prime minister’s attention that the Taliban had been systematically dismantling all signs of US and UK intervention as soon as the airlift started and that the whole episode was a catastrophic failure of leadership. Boris merely blustered and restated his claims. Par for the course.

When parliament had been recalled to debate the Afghan crisis, Johnson had received almost as much incoming flak from his own benches as he did from the opposition. This time though his own MPs – even Tom Tugendhat, whom some Tories accused of playing party politics on Twitter, appearing to have mistaken him for a Labour MP after his handling of Raab’s appearance before the foreign affairs select committee – were in a much more emollient mood, restricting themselves to matters of detail rather than an attack on the government’s competence.

This wasn’t the only divide in the chamber. While almost all the opposition MPs were wearing masks and observing a modicum of social distancing, all but six of the Tories packed into the government benches were bare-faced. The numbers may be going in the wrong direction and there may be a surge when the schools go back, but as far as the Conservatives are concerned the coronavirus pandemic is over. That may come back to bite them.

Boris ended his 75-minute, virtually content-free appearance in the Commons by saying he would reply to everyone’s emails by the end of the day. Another promise sure to be broken. But perhaps what was most striking about his performance was his lack of support for his foreign secretary. On several occasions he was invited to sack Raab but not once did he stick up for him by saying he had done a good job.

Sitting next to Boris, Raab looked unusually abject as he sucked up the humiliation. When it came to his turn to make his statement on Afghanistan, more than half the Tories noisily left the chamber as he started speaking. Raab’s popularity ratings are in freefall among the Tories. Like Dom, they sense the game is up.

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