Hoteliers and meteorologists in Crete have expressed their bafflement at Dominic Raab’s claim that he couldn’t possibly have been paddleboarding while Kabul fell because the sea was “closed”.
The foreign secretary sought to rubbish claims he was seen swimming and using a paddle board on the final day of his controversial holiday on the Greek island.
Raab faced strong criticism for not returning from Crete when the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate and the Taliban took control of Kabul.
He has said he left to return to the UK on 15 August, and that he was “working tirelessly” throughout that period despite being out of the country.
The Times reported that witnesses said they saw Raab swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his holiday.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Raab said: “The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense. The stuff about me paddleboarding – nonsense. The sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.”
‘No beaches closed’
But one hotelier whose resort is a short stroll from the luxury venue where the foreign secretary stayed with his family told The Independent: “As far as we are aware there aren’t any beaches that have been closed. The beach in front of the hotel is open to the public all summer.”
She added: “There wasn’t any issue in Crete all season that might have been the cause for beaches to close”.
Greek meteorologist Thodoris Kolydas said: “We did not have any significant weather phenomenon in the area of Crete between 12-15 Aug. The winds were north, with a maximum of 6 to 7 Beaufort [25-38mph] and the weather was locally cloudy.”
And Alexandros Roniotis, who runs a website listing information about the island’s coastline, said: “No beaches were closed. Only some gorges during the big fires, but no beaches.”
Questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about claims that his department asked him to return home on 13 August, Raab said: “I was not asked by my officials. I was not directed home.”
He went on: “I’m not going to add any more to the speculation in the media. What I can tell you is that from that period I was engaged from a hotel room, my family was on the beach, not me. I checked in on them episodically, but the idea that I was lounging on the beach is just nonsense.
“I was in a hotel room, engaged on Cobra, directing and working with my emergency response team and talking to the director and the director-general, engaged with international partners.
“And, as a result of those efforts… from exactly the point in time you are talking about, we secured the safe passage back to the UK of 9,000.”
Raab said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he would not have gone away. He told Sky News: “Of course with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn’t have gone away, but that is a luxury of commentators not politicians.
“And if you’re the foreign secretary, I’m travelling all the time for work purposes, I always need to be able to grip crises that arise, and that’s what we were doing.
He added: “With the benefit of hindsight I would have been back earlier, but we were all surprised by the scale and the pace of the collapse of the situation.”
He told the Today programme: “The pace of the Taliban takeover, I think, even caught the Taliban by surprise.”
Related: Sadiq Khan sets out plan to rehouse Afghan refugees in London
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