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by Louise Wilson
05 September 2021
Sketch: Dominic Raab's working holiday

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Dominic Raab's working holiday

Dominic Raab was categorically not paddle-boarding when Kabul fell. That rumour was “nonsense”, he said. Nor was he “lounging on a beach” when it happened either. That too was “nonsense”.

He knows this because the Mediterranean Sea was closed that day. It was Poseidon’s day off, apparently. And well deserved too. So he’d shut the sea up for a bit. Put up a little ‘gone fishing’ sign. Temporarily traded in his trident for a mojito.

You know who wasn’t on holiday? Dominic Raab. “I was engaged in meetings,” the foreign secretary told Sky News. “The stuff about me lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense. The stuff about me paddleboarding, nonsense. The sea was actually closed. It was a red notice. I was focused on the COBRA meetings.”

And so what if he happened to be focusing on those meetings from a £1,000-a-night luxury hotel on an idyllic Greek island, having earlier dropped his family off at the beach to get some peace and quiet, after convincing his boss he should be able to stay on holiday for an extra couple of days?

He denied reports that Boris Johnson had originally asked him to return on Friday 13 August, though. He told Sky that, “with hindsight, of course, I would have wanted to be back earlier.” Which is why he didn’t return until Sunday 15 August.

If we’ve learnt anything in the last couple of years, it’s that mates of Boris called Dominic have a habit of holding on to power 

Raab later told the BBC: “It’s bread and butter for a foreign secretary, travelling for whatever reason, to be able to grip crises as and when they arise.” He could get a grip perfectly well from Crete, thank you very much, no matter that he was travelling for a holiday rather than anything job-related.

“With hindsight, I wouldn’t have gone away at all.” A wonderful thing, this hindsight. Even better than MoD intelligence, which would surely have suggested not going AWOL as the Taliban was advancing through Afghanistan. No doubt Raab thought he was more intelligent than the intelligence.

He “would have come back earlier” if the whole having to fly back to the UK wouldn’t have taken up six hours of his time, apparently. So really it was for the good of Afghanistan that he stayed in Crete.

“I was basing my decisions on the facts as we had them, and I think the whole world, including the Taliban, was caught unawares by the scale and the pace of the fall of Kabul,” he claimed. I don’t think the Taliban was caught unawares by the Taliban, if I’m honest. I think maybe the Taliban knew what the Taliban was planning.

But it is difficult not to be caught unawares when you’ve spent the day in Speedos, I suppose.

Naturally there have been calls for the foreign secretary to resign over the matter. But if we’ve learnt anything in the last couple of years, it’s that mates of Boris called Dominic have a habit of holding on to power for a bit longer than most people are comfortable with.

Still, there is some speculation that Raab at least won’t make the cut in the next cabinet reshuffle. Aberdeen raver Michael Gove, the non-cowering Sajid Javid and English cheese and pork enthusiast Liz Truss are all being touted as possible replacements when the time comes. It’s a serious job and only those most astute MPs can do it.

It is after all the post formerly held by Boris Johnson. And he is, according to a source in the Times, “exasperated that the Foreign Office has not done what he told them”. If only he had some power to pull his ministers into line, like a sort of prime position among ministers…

Of course, when Johnson was promoted to foreign secretary himself, there were rumours it was not about his diplomatic prowess, but more about getting him out of the country often so he couldn’t mount a rebellion against Theresa May.

That seems a bit unfair given all he achieved in those two years: managing to further endanger Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who was arbitrarily detained in Iran, after he wrongly said she was “simply teaching people journalism”; promoting whisky on a visit to a Sikh temple and then, having been called out for insensitivity, replying: “I’m very sorry if you think alcohol is a bad thing”; and suggesting Sirte in Libya could be the new Dubai, adding: “All they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.”

Indeed, Johnson’s main interaction with Afghanistan, it seems, was hiding out there to avoid having to vote on the Heathrow expansion – which he had previously pledged to oppose – to the cost of £20,000 to the taxpayer. But then, that’s less than half of what you need for a good home refurb. Pennies, really.

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