Hoteliers and meteorologists in Crete say they are baffled by Dominic Raab’s claim that he couldn’t have been paddleboarding on holiday while Kabul fell because the sea was “closed”.
The foreign secretary denied reports that he was seen swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his holiday on the Greek island.
He has faced strong criticism for not returning when the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate and the Taliban took control of Kabul.
“The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense,” he told Sky News. “The stuff about me paddleboarding – nonsense. The sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.”
But Lena Michalaki, whose GDM Island Hotel in Kato Gouves is a short walk from the luxury resort where Mr Raab was 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, whose Cretan Beaches website lists information about the island’s sandy stretches, went even further: “No beaches were closed. Only some gorges during the big fires, but no beaches.”
An official at Mr Raab’s department later suggested the minister was referring to red flags warning of strong currents at “a beach” — but were unable to say if it was the beach at his resort.
Questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about claims that his department asked him to return home on Friday August 13, Mr 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.”
Mr Raab said that with the benefit of hindsight that he would not have gone on holiday during the unfolding crisis.
“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 said. “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.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “As we have consistently said, the foreign secretary has been overseeing the FCDO’s response to the situation in Afghanistan throughout, including engaging with international partners and directing the FCDO’s emergency response centre.”