Boris Johnson is facing another dangerous moment that threatens his authority as new questions have been raised over his involvement in evacuating dogs from Afghanistan.
The British Prime Minister strongly refuted on Thursday accusations that he authorised a charity led by Paul “Pen” Farthing to fly out the animals after the Taliban took Kabul last August.
Mr Johnson has previously described suggestions he had personally intervened as “complete nonsense” and on Thursday described them as “total rhubarb” but emerging evidence has raised questions his statements.
He has been tied to assisting their movement after a leaked letter showed that Trudy Harrison, MP, then Mr Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary, hinted at his involvement. She wrote to Mr Farthing on August 25 to inform him the evacuation could go ahead suggesting this authority had come for the prime minister.
The story is also putting greater focus on the accuracy of Mr Johnson’s words as he awaits publication of the Sue Gray report into lockdown-breaching parties that could determine his fate as prime minister.
An email produced by a Foreign Office whistleblower to a parliamentary committee suggested that Mr Johnson had authorised the animal evacuation at a time when Afghans who had worked for the British government were being left behind at great risk of Taliban retaliation.
Emails shared with the Foreign Affairs committee include one by an official in Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith’s private office telling colleagues on August 25 that “the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated,” referring to other charities wanting the same treatment.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted he had been given no order from the prime minister to prioritise pets.
Tom Tugendhat, MP, chairman of the committee, agreed that it was possible that some civil servants had exploited Johnson's name after his wife Carrie reportedly intervened.
“You'll have to read the emails and see whether you think that there were others who were working around the system,” he told the BBC.
A series of questions were asked of the Prime Minister’s official spokesman during his media briefing on Thursday in which he too denied any involvement by Mr Johnson or his wife Carrie, an animal rights campaigner.
“It’s not uncommon in Whitehall for decisions to be interpreted or portrayed as coming directly from the Prime Minister, even when that’s not the case,” he said.
“We appreciate it was a frenetic time for those officials dealing with this situation, but that’s our understanding of what’s happened in this instance.”
He added that officials were “dealing with thousands of emails a day on evacuation requests”.
But questions have been raised over whether officials would have taken notice of Ms Harrison’s request if she was posing as a constituency MP rather than acting as parliamentary aid for the prime minister.
Mr Farthing has also responded to the current furore over the evacuation, which he achieved via private funding and after the British evacuation had ended, by issuing a tweet suggesting the story had resurfaced in the light of the Partygate issues.
“If he was involved then why did I only get out after the British had left? Appalling reporting and even worse using a charity to play party politics…” he tweeted.
The Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg described the matter as “fussing about a few animals”.
While Mr Johnson has for now been able to largely brush off the Afghanistan story, he faces a tougher task when the Gray report is published in the coming days.