A UK minister has said the government does not know how many people were left in Afghanistan who were eligible to come to Britain.
“That’s an impossible number to put a figure on,” Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News.
The “vast, vast bulk” of British nationals had left Afghanistan, he said, but there were also eligible people under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme – for people who helped UK forces – and others who could be under threat from the Taliban.
“We are going to continue working to get people out who fall into those groups – predominantly now, of course, it will be in that third group – people at risk of reprisals, whether they be high-profile individuals, of religious minorities or others who may be under severe risk of reprisals from the Taliban.”
Around 15,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in a “herculean” effort, Cleverly said during a round of interviews on Monday.
But Labour has claimed around 5,000 may have been left behind and ministers have faced criticism over the UK response.
Cleverly also defended the Foreign Office’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan amid allegations that Dominic Raab is a “control freak” who faces the sack.
The minister insisted the allegations about the foreign secretary’s style of leadership were “not true” and insisted the department had responded swiftly to the unprecedented events in Afghanistan.
Raab has faced criticism for being on holiday in Crete as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan.
In the latest sign of the Whitehall infighting, one government source told The Times: “I think he is toast in the next reshuffle”, and the Foreign Office “is a poorly led organisation with a control freak in charge who won’t delegate anything”.
But Cleverly told Times Radio: “I don’t know where that’s where that’s coming from. The organisation that I see really sprang quickly into an activity that was at a scale and nature that was unprecedented.”
Asked directly whether Raab was a “control freak”, Cleverly said: “No, that’s not true. It’s not true.”
On the suggestion Raab was “toast” in the next reshuffle because of his failings, Cleverly told LBC Radio: “Government departments and ministers – including Dominic – worked incredibly hard, we worked together, we were able to get out over 15,000 people in those last couple of weeks, because all bits of government had a role to play and discharged those roles and those functions incredibly, incredibly professionally.
“That includes Dominic, as well. None of us could have done it on our own, we could only do it working collaboratively, that’s what happened.
“It was a brutal, horrible, incredibly difficult time and yet – as I say – we were able to evacuate over 15,000 people and that is a herculean task.”