Dominic Raab has said reports of him paddleboarding on holiday while Kabul fell are “nonsense” because he was working and the sea was actually “closed”.
The foreign secretary faced strong criticism for not returning from Crete when the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate and the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Raab has said he left to return to the UK on Sunday August 15, and that he was “working tirelessly” throughout that period despite being out of the country.
The Times reported that witnesses said they saw Raab swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his holiday.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Raab said: “The stuff about me being 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.”
And questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about claims that his department asked him to return home on Friday August 13, Raab said: “I was not asked by my officials. I was not directed home.”
He went on: “I’m not going to add any more to the speculation in the media. What I can tell you is that from that period I was engaged from a hotel room, my family was on the beach, not me. I checked in on them episodically, but the idea that I was lounging on the beach is just nonsense.
“I was in a hotel room, engaged on Cobra, directing and working with my emergency response team and talking to the director and the director-general, engaged with international partners.
“And, as a result of those efforts… from exactly the point in time you are talking about, we secured the safe passage back to the UK of 9000.”
Mr Raab said that, with the benefit of hindsight, “of course I would have come back, I probably wouldn’t have gone on leave at all, but we deal with the assessments that we are given”.
He added: “The pace of the Taliban takeover, I think, even caught the Taliban by surprise.”
The Cabinet minister faced calls from opposition parties to resign after it was reported that Foreign Office officials advised him on August 13, while he was away, to call Afghan foreign minister Hanif Atmar – two days before the Taliban marched on Kabul – to arrange help for those who supported British troops.
But Raab delegated the call to a junior minister, Lord Goldsmith, and it later emerged that the call had never been made.
Asked on BBC Breakfast if he regrets that the call was not made, and if he should have done things differently, Raab said: “Not in relation to that, no. Because, I mean, hindsight is the luxury of commentators not politicians.”
Raab had previously said in a statement that the planned phone call was “quickly overtaken by events”.
“The call was delegated to a minister of state because I was prioritising security and capacity at the airport on the direct advice of the director and the director-general overseeing the crisis response,” he said.
“In any event, the Afghan foreign minister agreed to take the call, but was unable to because of the rapidly deteriorating situation.”