Boris Johnson’s most senior aide spent the day at a cricket match three days before the fall of Kabul, The Telegraph can disclose.
Dan Rosenfield, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, accepted hospitality tickets to a weekday match at Lord’s on Aug 12, a day before a senior Number 10 figure – said to have been Mr Rosenfield – ordered Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, to return from a holiday in Cyprus.
Nine days later, on Aug 21, Mr Rosenfield returned to Lord’s for another match, this time on a Saturday.
On the same day as the match on Aug 12, officials were finalising plans to send hundreds of paratroopers back to Afghanistan to carry out a major evacuation from Kabul airport.
The disclosure is likely to raise further questions about Number 10’s role in the operation to rescue UK and Afghan nations under threat from the Taliban.
The following week, a bitter blame game broke out in Whitehall over who was responsible for delays that led to thousands being left behind, and Gen Lord Richard Dannatt, a former head of the Army, later accused the Government of being “asleep on watch”.
On Saturday night, a Number 10 source insisted Mr Rosenfield, a former senior civil servant at the Treasury, was “in constant contact with the office”.
But the disclosure that he spent Aug 12 watching England play India at Lord’s rather than helping to coordinate the Government response from Number 10 is likely to fuel calls for his departure amid pressure on Mr Johnson to overhaul his operation as part of a “reset” aimed at saving his premiership.
A series of MPs and Cabinet ministers have made clear that they believe Mr Rosenfield should be sacked as part of a shake-up, and Mr Johnsons’s “Praetorian Guard” of unofficial whips helping to shore up his position have promised backbenchers that radical changes are coming.
David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, said: “It is an extraordinary reflection of the work ethic and commitment of Number 10 staff that a senior member of that staff is taking days off when Afghanistan is falling and Number 10 demanding that ministers return from holiday. “
Another senior Conservative, who has so far refrained from publicly calling for Mr Johnson’s resignation, suggested that the Prime Minister should shoulder at least part of the blame for Mr Rosenfield’s actions.
The MP said: “Can you imagine David Cameron’s chief of staff doing that? No – he would have fired him. Can you imagine Theresa May’s chief of staff doing that? Of course not – she would have fired him.
“Can you imagine this chief of staff doing that when he worked for Alistair Darling or George Osborne? There’s literally no way he would have done it.”
Speaking on Aug 12, Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said that “the security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority”, adding: “We must do everything we can to ensure their safety.”
On Aug 21, when Mr Rosenfield attended the Hundred Final at Lord’s in the evening amid the chaotic evacuation effort from Kabul, the city’s airport was shut down and US citizens were urged not to head there amid reports of people dying after being crushed or succumbing to sweltering temperatures.
A Number 10 source said: “Dan was in constant contact with the office, working long days and weekends throughout the period which saw the fall of Kabul and subsequent safe evacuation of 15,000 people in Operation Pitting.”
Mr Johnson is likely to come under further pressure from his MPs this week as Sue Gray prepares to hand over a redacted report on events in Number 10 said to have breached Covid rules.
Timeline of ‘partygate’
His supporters are becoming increasingly confident that the Metropolitan Police’s decision to investigate – and to ask Ms Gray to avoid publishing details of possible breaches of the law – has given him a stay of execution.
A ministerial aide admitted that the Met’s decision was “good for the PM” in the short term, but added: “In the medium term it isn’t good because this thing is going to kick around for a long time and all the time it is there we are bleeding support.”
On Saturday night, Mr Johnson addressed a video call of about 50 MPs campaigning to save his premiership. The call was hosted by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and the Prime Minister said he was focused on getting on with his domestic policy agenda.
Nigel Adams, one of the Cabinet ministers who has been helping to run an unofficial whipping operation, thanked MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadhim Zahawi, Jonathan Gullis and Stuart Anderson for their help in pressing Mr Johnson’s case in media interviews and conversations with colleagues.
In a focus group of working class voters in Bury, held for The Telegraph, six of the nine members said the Prime Minister should quit.
Angela, a dog walker and grandmother of two, said: “If it was us, we would have lost our jobs. Originally, I liked him enough. I voted for him for Brexit. He’s only in it for himself now.”