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The main feature of some political controversies is whether or not a Minister has lied.  As matters stand, this is not so for Boris Johnson.

That’s because the main aspect of the troubles that plague him is whether Covid rules about parties were breached in Downing Street and, if so, whether he should resign, or else be removed.

But whether he has or hasn’t misled MPs, as well as everyone else, matters at least as much to Conservative MPs as it does to the rest of us, though perhaps for a different reason.

Neither Ministers nor backbenchers expect the Prime Minister to tell all of the truth all of the time.  There may be good reasons why he sometimes shouldn’t (if the answer might put national security at risk, for example).

But they expect him to tell them at least some of the truth all of the time – and certainly not to lie directly.  If they begin to feel that he isn’t doing so, party discipline starts to break down.

After all, backbenchers must go “over the top”, to use an image frequently deployed among the older intakes, on behalf of their commanding officers, of whom Johnson is the most senior.

If they do and find that those officers have skived off to the mess, or that “somone has blundered”, or that they’ve gone into battle on the basis of false information, they may not rebel, but they may stop turning up.

This brings us to Pen Farthing, his animals, and their transport from Afghanistan.  Some leaders will remember that my godson, Raffy Marshall, was the Foreign Office whistleblower.

My concern this morning is not whether he is right or wrong to believe that the Government should have given the removal of the animals no assistance in the circumstances.

Rather, it’s whether or not the Prime Minister lied to or misled people about what took place.  At the time of the incident, he insisted that claims he had authorised their removal were “complete nonsense”.

My godson submitted evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee claiming that he had heard “the senior official (‘Crisis Silver’) responsible for Afghan Special Cases say that they had just received an instruction from the Prime Minister to ‘call forward’ Nowzad’s staff to Kabul Airport for evacuation.”

“A colleague said that the Prime Minister had issued this instruction in a COBR meeting….several colleagues sent messages on the Afghan Special Cases group on Microsoft Teams to the effect that the Prime Minister had instructed us to call-forward Nowzad’s staff for evacuation.”

Yesterday, the committee released a series of e-mails about the incident, one of which was from a Foreign Office civil servant in Zac Goldsmith’s office to another Foreign Office civil servant.

It said that “Nowzad, run by an ex-Royal Marine, has received a lot of publicity and the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

Four points in passing.  First, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Goldsmith knew about any authorisation.  He denies that he did.

Second, Trudi Harrison, then Johnson’s PPS, contacted a private charter company in the hope of securing a plane to transport animals and staff.

She claims to have done so as a constituency MP but Sky News says that “none of her constituents were directly involved”.

Third, Dominic Dyer, who worked with Pen Farthing, claims that the Prime Minister “played a key role in the evacuation operation”.

Finally, Ben Wallace, who gave evidence to the committee this week, told it that he was not given any instruction by Johnson, though Ministry of Defence personnel would presumably have been required to assist.

At this point, you may say: even if Johnson didn’t tell the truth, this isn’t remotely a resignation matter and lots of voters love animals and will support the airlift.  So what’s the problem?

I think that’s true as far as it goes, which isn’t very far at all in the context of bigger questions about the Prime Minister and the truth – especially in relation to social gatherings in Downing Street that broke the Covid rules.

In any event, a logician might conclude that there are alternative explanations about the animal airlift (and assume in passing that Wallace is telling the truth, as I believe he is, and that he knew nothing about it).

That logician’s view would be informed by Number Ten’s statement yesterday, which said that “the Prime Minister had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during Op Pitting, including Nowzad staff and animals.”

“At no point did the Prime Minister instruct staff to take any particular course of action on Nowzad.”  So, then: explanation one is that the civil servant is mistaken.  Explanation two is Johnson isn’t telling the truth.

Can I float a third possibility: is it possible that a civil servant in Downing Street, perhaps one nearer the political end of the operation, was given an instruction by someone who he reasonably believed spoke for the Prime Minister?

And did he then in good faith pass that instruction on as an authorisation to the Foreign Office civil servant in question?

If so, who might that someone be?  Who in Number Ten might be regarded as speaking in the Prime Minister’s name?

At the time, a spokesman said that Johnson’s focus was on evacuating “as many people as possible” and that in relation to Nowzad “neither the Prime Minister nor Mrs Johnson were involved.”