Operation Save Big Dog and the real scandal of Boris’s leadership

27 January 2022

5:41 AM

27 January 2022

5:41 AM

There is a theory which states the primary reason for Boris Johnson’s political longevity is that there are simply so many scandals that the latest infidelity drives the last one from public consciousness before it really has time to sink in.

‘Who paid for his wallpaper? Meal delivery? He had a party while forcing the country into social isolation and atomisation? How many parties— what do you mean the police are investigating him?’

At this point, it seems like the revelation most likely to do him in will be the discovery that, at some point in the last two years, Boris Johnson sat quietly in a room and diligently worked through an afternoon without once breaking from his papers to do something outrageous.

But perhaps this is unfair. For all that the mood in the Conservative’s 2019 intake may be getting a bit Blackadder Goes Forth (‘Field Marshall Haig is worried this may be depressing the men a tad—’), Johnson’s loyalists do have a point when they note that these are ultimately about style rather than substance; yes, they undermine his authority and his ability to take measures to contain future variants, but they aren’t nearly so serious as the situation in Ukraine? Shouldn’t we be talking about policy?

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s skip over the latest ‘Operation Save Big Dog‘ and go back to the original: the decision in the middle of the evacuation of Kabul to divert capacity towards airlifting animals. As I wrote at the time, this was a moral abomination. Britain asked people to risk their lives and their families to work with us and build a different Afghanistan, then — when our latest expedition to the graveyard of empires came to a predictable end — we left people outside the airport while we filled a plane with pets.

The first argument offered by the Ministry of Defence was that no resources were diverted from evacuating those put at risk by supporting British forces. Later, when it turned out the Foreign Office had collapsed under the strain and that the obvious trade-off between evacuating pets and people was just that, we were offered the assurance that at least there had been no political interference from the Prime Minister. Boris Johnson publicly called any such claim ‘complete nonsense’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latest evidence from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee suggests exactly the opposite. Raphael Marshall’s written testimony and emails provided include a message from an FCDO official in Lord Goldsmith’s office explicitly stating that ‘the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated’.

The interesting thing is that this — the suggestion that Boris may not have been entirely correct when denying any interference — is what is generating outrage, rather than the fact that the decision was taken at all. In case the full import of this isn’t quite sinking in for you, perhaps I should reemphasise: when our interpreters were begging for their families to be rescued, the United Kingdom was diverting resources towards pets that were at no risk, towards staff who were given visas when those who served with us were not.

The idea that, in Boris Johnson’s words, this airlift ‘was one of the outstanding military achievements of the last fifty years or more’ is laughable. No matter how sorry you believe Britain’s post-war record to be, it’s not that bad. If this is genuinely the best Britain can do, it’s no wonder the Russians laughed at us when we said we were joining the Americans in their adventure. As one official said, “You will go in, you will lose, many of you will die, and then you’ll be forced to retreat, which will be good for us. How can we help?”

The answer 20 years on appears to be ‘by providing us with coffins and pet carriers’.

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