Toby Neal: About time Dominic Raab actually answered a question

Dominic Raab is not on holiday.

Not on holiday - the Foreign Secretary
Not on holiday - the Foreign Secretary

I know this because he was on the telly this week appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

He looked rather pale. Perhaps another break would do him good and improve his colour.

Of course we all know that he has been on a holiday which was rudely interrupted.

While he was away from his desk the Taliban swept across Afghanistan in a matter of days before raising their flag in Kabul.

The two events – Taliban triumph and Raab holiday – are probably not related, but that did not stop the Foreign Secretary from coming in for some difficult questioning as he took his place in the hot seat.

You never know what to expect from these live TV committee grillings. At their worst they give MPs the chance to grandstand and showboat with their headline-friendly questions. For me a ludicrous low point was when MP Tom Watson told James Murdoch (head of News International) that he was a mafia boss.

I'm fully supportive of ministers having holidays, but the relevant issue in regard to Afghanistan is whether Mr Raab took his eye off the ball.

Chris Bryant asked him when he actually went on holiday. Mr Raab wouldn't tell. Maybe with the turn of events and the Taliban taking full advantage while he was on his break he thinks such information should be kept a national secret.

"I made a full statement," he said. Not that full, though, was it?

Labour MP Neil Coyle asked if the portrait of the Queen was left in the British Embassy at Kabul. Dom said his understanding was that it had been destroyed.

This was shocking in itself, conjuring up imagery of embassy staff, as a last act before making their hurried exit, taking down photographs of the Queen from the walls and jumping up and down on them.

What if a photograph ever emerged of the British Ambassador smashing up the image of our esteemed monarch? It would be a national humiliation. In the past people were sent to the Tower for less.

On the plus side though it would mean no portrait of the Queen fell into the hands of the Taliban, and if they wanted one they would have to commission it themselves.

However, Mr Raab was taken aback when he was told that there is a photograph in existence which shows the Taliban with a surviving portrait of the Queen. So it did fall into Taliban hands after all. In fact the Taliban are reportedly safeguarding the picture, which seems somewhat ironic when the risk to it came from British embassy staff.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald of the SNP was like a terrier about Mr Raab's holiday arrangements.

"I want to understand how your own actions correspond with the advance of the Taliban across the country," he said.

Saying he was not looking to browbeat the minister, he too demanded to know when he went on holiday. Mr Raab repeated his non-answers.

After his appearance before the committee the Foreign Secretary left to catch a flight to the region. And not for a holiday this time.

Environmental mess

A few weeks ago I suggested that it would be worth the while of Extinction Rebellion campaigners to attend large recreational gatherings in parks and so on and use megaphones to encourage people not to leave litter.

This bit of kindly advice has clearly gone unheeded at the Reading Festival, attended one imagines by the environmentally-aware younger generation who have left an environmentally-disastrous total mess of abandoned tents and assorted rubbish for somebody else to clear up.

Apparently it is a festival tradition to leave tents behind to be "recycled" and used by charities, but that excuse doesn't wash, as there was lots of other general rubbish too, including women's underwear – strangely, according to one clearer-upper, men's underwear is never left behind – and a giant inflatable phallus.

A few of the plastic tents can be used again, but most won't and will end up in landfill sites where they will reportedly take 10,000 years to decompose.

I will say though that there is a problem with pop-up tents, which I discovered on a holiday in Wales. They do pop up in an instant, but working out how to pack them away again after use is a devil of a job.

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