An MP has alleged a leaked letter from the Foreign Office provides evidence that Prime Minister Boris Johnson intervened in order to enable Pen Farthing, the founder of animal charity Nowzad, to leave Afghanistan with the charity‚Äôs dogs and cats. An allegation denied by Downing Street.
Chris Bryant MP, at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs select committee said that the letter felt, ‚Äúvery much like a direction from the prime minister to me, I have to say.‚ÄĚ
The letter from Mr Johinson‚Äôs Parliamentary Private Secretary, Trudy Harrison, said, ‚ÄėI‚Äôm writing to inform you that I have received confirmation from the FCDO, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence that you, your staff and their dependents are permitted to travel to Hamad Karzai international airport.
‚ÄėThe secretary of state has made it clear that all 68 persons will be provided a flight by the Royal Air Force as part of the evacuation programme. The secretary of state has also confirmed that animals under the care of Nowzad can be evacuated on a separate chartered flight. The Minister of Defence will ensure that a flight is available.‚Äô
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, had at first refused to allow Mr Farthing to leave with his animals arguing their rescue could not be a priority when the military were scrambling to airlift thousands of others at risk. This led to a bitter row between the two men.
Mr Wallace accused Mr Farthing of abusing his staff and Pen did later apologise for the language he used when speaking to Ministry of Defence officials.
Ben Wallace hit out at the, ‚Äėbullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour,‚Äô of those who were supporting Mr Farthing‚Äôs efforts to get the animals out of Afghanistan before suddenly performing a surprise U-turn in a tweet at 1.33am on 25 August.
It was reported that the Prime Minister‚Äôs wife, Carrie Johnson, lobbied in favour of Mr Farthing, although this was denied by Downing Street.
No 10 has said that Harrison was ‚Äėacting in her capacity as a constituency MP‚Äô when she sent the letter but Mr Farthing and Dominic Dyer, an animal rights campaigner, who called on the government to help Nowzad, pointed out that neither of them live in her constituency.
Mr Dyer told the BBC he had contacted Carrie Johnson and asked her to lobby on the issue and that he had ‚Äúforced the Prime Minister‚Äôs arm.‚ÄĚ He describes himself as a friend of Mrs Johnson who has had a longstanding interest in animal rights campaigns.
Mr Johnson‚Äôs spokesperson said, ‚ÄėAt no point did the prime minister intervene. We have always prioritised people over animals, as we said both during and subsequently.‚Äô
In response to the letter they said, ‚ÄėThis was an operational decision ‚Ä¶ This letter was nothing to do with Ms Harrison‚Äôs role as the PM‚Äôs PPS, she was acting in her capacity as a constituency MP.‚Äô
Mr Dyer told The Guardian, ‚ÄėI‚Äôve been around politics a long time. You don‚Äôt get a situation where the secretary of state changes his view and puts out a tweet at 1.33am unless pressure has been brought to bear. I believe the PM got involved.‚Äô
Pen Farthing left the country with 173 dogs and cats in the cargo hold of a plane and he has tweeted, ‚ÄėNo aircraft slot was used that could have helped others. My flight took off with only me on it as government refused offer to fill empty seats.‚Äô
He told a meeting of All-Parliamentary Dog Advisory Group (APDAWG) on the 7 December that Nowzad was being used, ‚Äėto deflect from obviously the failings of the government in their withdrawal from Afghanistan.‚Äô
He recounted what had happened leading up to the moment he needed to escape the country, ‚ÄėAs we started to see the Taliban advance across the country we actually made plans with the normal commercial flights that were leaving Afghanistan to start moving some of our animals.
‚ÄėBut we always thought that (President) Biden would interfere, he would actually stop this withdrawal from happening. Sadly, all he wanted to do was to get the troops out he really didn‚Äôt care what happened to Afghanistan.
‚ÄėWe had some of the first female veterinarians in Afghanistan, young women who had been small girls when we had gone into Afghanistan back in 2001. By going in we had allowed them the security to actually go to school.
‚ÄėWe suddenly heard (the Taliban) were taking the country at a very fast pace. So while it is all well and good to say you knew what was coming, you knew the Taliban were going to take over, what do you do?
‚ÄėDo you just leave and leave all the animals and all the people? I couldn‚Äôt do that, I couldn‚Äôt just go. We had no idea what was going to happen.
‚Äė(The Taliban takeover) happened in the space of days. One minute we thought the Taliban were at least a month away. The American‚Äôs were giving intelligence reports that they were at least three months away from taking Kabul and they took Kabul within 48 hours of those assessments being made.
‚ÄėIt just became absolute chaos, we had all of our animals and we had over 140 dogs over 70 odd cats our donkey shelter, all our staff we were like how do we get out of this situation? Staying in Afghanistan was not going to be an option.
‚ÄėOne of the things we said was that we would not take resources away from the government in their attempt to get out the interpreters etc. so we would fund our own cargo flight. On a cargo flight you can‚Äôt pop people in the hold you can only put animals or cargo.
‚ÄėSo all of our animals would go into the cargo hold and our people would go into the actual passenger part of the plane. So we started that campaign and Operation Ark was the end result, what we were going for.
‚ÄėWith Operation Ark we said we would get the people and the animals out. We had the ability to transport 94 dogs and 75 cats.
‚ÄėI told you before we had over 140 dogs so we had to make hard choices. Not all of the dogs were going to be able to travel and it breaks my heart to this day that we had to put some of older dogs to sleep and we released some of those dogs that we had at our sanctuary that were never going to be rehomed. We had to make that tough choice.
‚ÄėThe people who helped me out with the dogs were American soldiers there were no British soldiers there. At no time did any British troops support me with the dogs and cats, I need to male that absolutely crystal clear.
‚ÄėThe flight was fully funded by donors, Nowzad supporters, people we had never met helped to fund our cargo aircraft.‚Äô
All the correct paperwork had been organised to get the dogs into the UK through Defra. Pen took off from Kabul with the dogs in the hold and 229 empty seats on the plane.
The 67 staff were able to get to Pakistan and they are all now safely in a bridging hotel in the UK going through the process in order to be resettled.
At the APDAWG meeting Pen Farthing was awarded the Philippa Robinson Dog Welfare Award.
The dogs and cats have passed through quarantine and are being found new homes.