Security adviser denies speaking to Downing St on Afghanistan animals evacuation

The UK's national security adviser was quizzed by MPs over Nowzad evacuation in August

Former Royal Marine Paul 'Pen' Farthing, who ran the Nowzad shelter, launched a high-profile campaign to fly his staff and animals out of Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul, using a plane funded by donations. PA

The UK’s national security adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, says he did not consult Downing Street before allowing staff from Paul "Pen" Farthing’s animal charity to be listed for evacuation from Afghanistan in August.

Sir Stephen gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is investigating leaked emails from Foreign Office staff, that suggest the government adviser consulted the prime minister’s office before giving the go-ahead for Nowzad staff to be evacuated in August.

He told the select committee the “actual decision” to call them forward was delegated to officials and military officers who had a “better understanding of the way to maximise the number of people who we could get safely onto those flights”.

“So exactly where those decisions would have been taken, I’m afraid I cannot quite tell you – almost certainly in PJHQ (Permanent Joint Headquarters),” he said.

The parliamentary committee is conducting an inquiry into the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Operation Pitting last summer. Part of their investigation has been looking into whether Mr Farthing, a former Royal Marine who ran the Nowzad animal shelter, was able to fly his staff and animals out of Afghanistan following a direct instruction from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Evidence supplied by whistle-blower Raphael Marshall exposed the Foreign Office’s questionable handling of the crisis in written evidence to the committee in December.

Mr Johnson and his wife, Carrie, an animal rights activist, have always denied they intervened to evacuate the charity head and his hundreds of cats and dogs from Afghanistan, despite claims to the contrary by one of the charity’s employees, as well as Mr Marshall.

Sir Stephen, who directed the Foreign Office to list staff from the animal shelter for air-lifting out of Kabul, told MPs on Monday he only did so after the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, tweeted in the early hours of August 25 that: “Now that Pen Farthing’s Nowzad staff have been cleared to come forward, I have authorised MoD to facilitate their processing.”

The charity staff had been cleared to come forward under the “leave outside the rules” (LOTR) scheme that allowed for deserving cases that did not meet other criteria.

Sir Stephen told the committee he did not give a “direction” to evacuate the workers.

“The idea that I gave a direction, (I) certainly didn’t give a direction, all I would have done was check that it was in order to call forward Nowzad on the basis that they were included in the LOTR list,” he said.

He said he would have checked with his staff that Nowzad was on the list, but admitted he had never seen the list itself. Sir Stephen said he could not precisely remember with whom he checked “in a very complex and fraught environment”, but said he would have remembered if he had checked with either the prime minister or the defence secretary.

“I certainly have no recollection of speaking to No 10.”

MPs quizzing the government adviser expressed frustration about the lack of clarity over who authorised the evacuation of animal charity staff from Afghanistan and criticised Sir Stephen at several points for what they deemed to be a lack of preparation for the meeting.

Updated: April 26, 2022, 10:21 AM