Why Foreign Office boss Philip Barton is being urged to quit

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The head of the diplomatic service, Sir Philip Barton, faces calls for his resignation over the withdrawal from Afghanistan

Boris Johnson has backed a senior Foreign Office official despite MPs calling for his resignation over “deep failures” during the Kabul evacuation.

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The cross-party foreign affairs committee has urged Sir Philip Barton to reconsider his position in a scathing report on Britain’s “betrayal” of Afghan allies.

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Ministers have been accused of having “absolutely no plan” for Afghans supporting the British mission, despite knowing for 18 months that the evacuations may be necessary if US troops withdraw.

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But who is Sir Philip Barton and why is his resignation being called for? Here’s what you need to know.

Philip Barton

Who is Sir Philip Barton?

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He is a British diplomat and is currently Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FDCO), a role he has held since September 2020. He has previously held posts such as British High Commissioner for India and Deputy Governor of Gibraltar.

The 58-year-old was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1997 Birthday Honors, a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2007 Birthday Honors and a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) at the 2020 New Year Awards for services to British foreign policy

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Last year he apologized for the historic ban on gay men and women from the diplomatic service, which was lifted in 1991.

The restriction was imposed because of concerns that LGBT employees could be more vulnerable to blackmail because of their sexuality, which could pose a potential security risk.

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In his message to staff, Sir Philip said it was a “misguided view” to believe that LGBT people were more vulnerable to blackmail than straight colleagues.

He said the diplomatic service had “undoubtedly robbed itself of some of Britain’s brightest and brightest talent”.

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Why is he being asked to resign?

Sir Philip was accused of “showing a determination to avoid exposure of the facts” during the investigation into the “disaster” of the withdrawal when the Taliban took power.

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That then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Sir Philip did not return from furlough when Kabul fell last August marked a “fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership,” MPs said.

Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) executives have been told to be “ashamed” that officials had to risk their careers by exposing the “horrific mismanagement of the crisis” when the Taliban came to power.

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Downing Street disputed aspects of the report and said the Prime Minister continued to have full confidence in Sir Philip as FCDO permanent secretary.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also backing Sir Philip, the PA news agency reported.

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Meanwhile, the Sun reports, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report states: “The fact that senior foreign ministry officials were on vacation when Kabul fell demonstrates a fundamental lack of seriousness, grasp or leadership at a time of national turmoil state of emergency.”

It adds: “The Committee has lost confidence in the Permanent Undersecretary [Sir Philip]who should reconsider his position.”

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The Guardian reported that in selecting Barton, the committee noted: “The fact that the Department’s top official did not return until the civilian evacuation was complete, while staff throughout the Department were under intense pressure struggling to implement a poorly planned evacuation process , is difficult to understand and impossible to excuse.”

According to the newspaper, Barton has already apologized for a mistake but has so far refused to resign.

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What did #10 say?

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We do not agree with all the conclusions that the committee has drawn from this.”

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Asked if Mr Johnson still has faith in Sir Philip, the spokesman said: “Yes.”

When asked why Sir Philip is the right person for the job, the spokesperson said: “He has extensive experience in the field and a number of changes have already been made.”

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Meanwhile, the Sun reports, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report states: “The fact that senior foreign ministry officials were on vacation when Kabul fell demonstrates a fundamental lack of seriousness, grasp or leadership at a time of national turmoil state of emergency.”

It adds: “The Committee has lost confidence in the Permanent Undersecretary [Sir Philip]who should reconsider his position.”

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