Raab’s Afghan debacle is turning into a competence issue for the whole government

Dominic Raab’s appearance before the foreign affairs select committee was more notable for what he didn’t say than what he did. After a fortnight of criticism over his department’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, the foreign secretary left plenty of questions unanswered.

In a tetchy appearance, Raab refused to be drawn 10 次 on when exactly he went on holiday to Crete, could not put a number on the number of Afghans eligible to be resettled in Britain who were left behind, and blamed military intelligence failures for his being taken by surprise by the speed at which Kabul fell.

It’s a sign of how much pressure Raab is currently under that his performance is being talked up by MPs as a relative success. “It didn’t move the dial either way, which for him is a net plus,” says one sympathetic member of the government. “We don’t look good but America looks worse,” says one government aide.

What it did do, 然而, was shed light on the blame game unfolding in Whitehall – and what the whole debacle is now turning into for the majority of the Conservative party.

After the last flight left 阿富汗, the focus has shifted to what went wrong for the government to be caught on the hop. Ministers are getting their versions of events out there – with the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Home Office all keen to say that mistakes weren’t made on their watch.

The issue for Raab is that he has received the most criticism by some margin. A series of hostile briefings from colleagues suggest that, when it comes to Boris Johnson’s cabinet, he has as much chance as being in a top four position by next spring “as Arsenal”. Even his attempts this week to put some of the blame for missed emails and faulty intelligence on the Ministry of Defence and Home Office have run into problems.

第一的, for all Raab’s talk that all the intelligence pointed to Kabul not falling this year, 一种 leaked Foreign Office risk assessment showed his own department warned, at the end of July, that Afghanistan was on the brink of collapse.

It’s not just the Foreign Office. The defence secretary, 本·华莱士, told me in an interview for the Spectator that he felt that the “game was up” in July and argued for plans to be accelerated. Wallace also hit back at Raab’s claims that intelligence failures were at fault – saying, “History shows us that it’s not about failure of intelligence, it’s about the limits of intelligence.”

“Dom is trying to shift the blame but it’s not working,” says one senior Tory.

然而, given Johnson rarely plays by the rules or convention when it comes to sacking or demoting ministers, it would be premature to write Raab off. “People have stayed on who have done worse,” says one adviser to the government.

Raab’s more immediate problem is that he appears to have few friends in his own department. The number of leaks coming from the Foreign Office suggests officials have turned on him, which will only make his job more difficult.

As for Johnson, the whole episode is beginning to be read by Tory MPs as symptomatic of a wider problem: the general state of the government.

Now that the final evacuation flights have left, the debate over how to respond to the crisis is dampening down. MPs remain unhappy – with calls for an inquiry from the more hawkish Tory backbenchers – but few have an alternative strategy and fewer still have much appetite for more intervention.

This is why it’s now turning into a competence issue – how Johnson’s government operates. The fact that ministers are openly squabbling and giving different versions of events over what went wrong is being taken as a sign of government dysfunction. “There is no grip,” sighs one Tory MP.

Raab’s own holiday – regardless of whether he took all his meetings from the hotel he was staying in – has become a metaphor for a government that has lost its focus. MPs complain that the government does not appear sufficiently serious.

When Theresa May took aim at Johnson, as parliament was recalled, to ask where “global Britain” was on the streets of Kabul, it reflected a growing concern among MPs that this is a government big on slogans but not as good on making them mean something in reality.

When MPs return to the Commons next week for the new term, Johnson needs to demonstrate that he is ready to govern. 然而, after a difficult and draining summer recess, plans for a refreshed and reinvigorated government have once again been thrown off course.

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