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PM ‘in charge’ of Iran situation despite holiday, Raab insists

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry accused Boris Johnson of ‘sunning himself drinking vodka martinis somewhere else and not paying attention’.

The Prime Minister has been accused of ‘not paying attention’ to events in the Middle East while on holiday in the Caribbean (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
The Prime Minister has been accused of ‘not paying attention’ to events in the Middle East while on holiday in the Caribbean (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Sophie Morris and Sam Blewett, PA Political Staff

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has insisted Boris Johnson is “in charge” and in “constant contact” despite being on holiday as tensions soar in the Middle East.

But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has accused the PM of “sunning himself drinking vodka martinis somewhere else and not paying attention” while in the Caribbean.

Due to return to Downing Street on Sunday, Mr Johnson is facing mounting calls to make a statement on the fatal drone strike on Iran’s military leader General Qassem Soleimani.

He has stayed silent while celebrating New Year on the private island of Mustique with partner Carrie Symonds.

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Dominic Raab says the Prime Minister has been engaged in diplomatic efforts (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Raab insisted he has been in “constant contact” with the PM and spoke to him on Friday over the escalating crisis triggered by US President Donald Trump’s air strike in Iraq.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The Prime Minister is in charge. In fact I’ve been in constant contact with him over the Christmas break on a whole range of foreign policy issues.”

Mr Raab said he had spoken to the Iraqi prime minister and president and will be speaking to Iran’s foreign minister before meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Thursday.

He insisted the Government has “a clear strategy”, adding: “And so the diplomatic effort goes on and indeed the Prime Minister has been engaged in that as well.”

Mr Raab also issued the strongest UK defence of the US attack to date, accusing hardliners in Tehran of “nefarious behaviour”, describing General Soleimani as a “regional menace” and saying the United States has the “right of self-defence”.

The Foreign Office has issued strengthened travel advice to Britons across the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, while the Navy will begin accompanying UK-flagged ships through the key oil route of the Strait of Hormuz.

We’ve had three Cobra meetings where Mark Sedwill, the chief civil servant, has had to chair it because the Prime Minister hasn’t been available Emily Thornberry

But Ms Thornberry hit back and accused the Government of doing “too little, too late”.

“We should take responsibility, we are international players – of course we have other preoccupations and clearly the Prime Minister has a lot of preoccupations, he’s sunning himself drinking vodka martinis somewhere else and not paying attention to this,” she told Ridge.

“We’ve had three Cobra meetings where Mark Sedwill, the chief civil servant, has had to chair it because the Prime Minister hasn’t been available.”

She accused Mr Johnson of dismissing her concerns the president was ripping up the Iran nuclear deal when he was foreign secretary.

“I remember saying to Boris Johnson ‘I’m really worried that the president is going to rip up the Iranian nuclear deal’ and he said to me ‘you should spend a bit less time reading the newspapers’,” Ms Thornberry said.

Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier said Mr Johnson “should have immediately cut short his holiday to deal with an issue that could have grave consequences for the UK and the world”.

Acting Lib Dem co-leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Johnson’s “silence on Trump’s dangerous assassination in Iraq is deafening”.

PA

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