The Foreign Office’s top civil servant has admitted to MPs that he was on holiday for nearly all of the UK’s evacuation effort in Afghanistan.
Sir Philip Barton, who earns £185,000 per year, was on annual leave – during which he spent time both in the UK and abroad – between 9 to 26 August this year.
This included an 11-day period spent on holiday even after Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, fell to Taliban control on 15 August.
Sir Philip, speaking to the House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee, acknowledged it had been a mistake for him to have remained on holiday during the period.
“I have reflected a lot in August on my leave, and if I had my time again I would have come back from my leave earlier than I did,” he said.
But he added he put in place cover arrangements and “stayed in touch with the department all the way through the period”.
The first British troops were deployed to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of UK nationals from the country from 15 August – the same day Kabul fell to Taliban control.
They wrapped up their evacuation efforts at the end of August, with the final evacuation flight purely for civilians leaving Kabul on 28 August.
The UK’s evacuation effort saw 15,000 people taken from Afghanistan, including 5,000 British nationals, 8,000 Afghans and 2,000 children.
But there has been criticism of the government’s handling of the operation.
One Foreign Office whistleblower has given testimony to the committee of a “dysfunctional” and “chaotic” situation.