Did the UK Cower to Trump? Debate Swirls After UK Ambassador Resigns
“It is shameful that Kim Darroch has effectively been forced out for doing the job that diplomats are appointed to do.”
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States resigned Wednesday after leaked diplomatic cables exposed the envoy’s unflattering private views of President Trump, triggering the president to denounce the British envoy and declare: “we will no longer deal with him.”
The cables revealed the ambassador’s candid assessments of the Trump administration, meant to be shared with only an exclusive group of senior officials in the British government. The veteran diplomat, Kim Darroch, described Trump as “clumsy and inept” and “radiating insecurity,” also voicing concern that he could be indebted to “dodgy Russians” and that his Iran policy is “incoherent.”
“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” wrote Darroch.
UK Responds to Cable Leak
Darroch resigned on Wednesday, saying “The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.” Differing responses to the situation from top British politicians, such as the two candidates competing to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister next month, led to further controversy.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed regret that Darroch was forced to leave his post for sharing his honest observations and fulfilling the basic duties of his job.
“We had a fine diplomat who was just doing what he should have been doing — giving a frank assessment, a personal assessment of the political situation in the country that he was posted (to) — and that’s why I defended him,” Hunt told reporters. “And I think we all should.”
Boris Johnson, Hunt’s predecessor as Foreign Secretary and his rival for the Prime Minister position, struck a different tone: “I think it’s very important we should have a close partnership, a close friendship with the United States.”
Johnson, the race’s frontrunner and most likely future Prime Minister, chose not to publicly support the outgoing ambassador until Thursday, prompting heavy criticism from other lawmakers.
“It is shameful that Kim Darroch has effectively been forced out for doing the job that diplomats are appointed to do,” tweeted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Boris Johnson’s failure last night to stand up for him — and stand up to the behavior of Donald Trump — spoke volumes.”
“Boris Johnson isn’t even PM yet and he is already responsible for a grievous blow to the U.K.’s international reputation…” tweeted independent lawmaker Nick Boles. “The British people can now see that Boris Johnson will be Donald Trump’s poodle, that his response to any command from the White House will be: ‘How high, Mr. President?”
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee, told Sky News: “If we allow ourselves to be bullied in who we chose to represent us, then frankly, what does sovereignty mean? If you can’t even choose who represents you, then in what way are you in charge of anything?”
Was the Cable Leak Premeditated?
So-called “Brexiteers” argue they could remedy any economic damage suffered from breaking with the E.U. trade bloc by forging a new trade agreement with the Trump administration and use their new clout with the U.S. as leverage over the rest of the E.U.
Some analysts, such as the Intercept’s Robert Mackey, believe the person who leaked the cables sought to oust Darroch and replace him with Nigel Farage, an impassioned Trump supporter and proponent of a hard-Brexit.
As Peter Ricketts, a former U.K. ambassador to France, wrote in the Guardian: “someone inside the British system deliberately amassed a stash of his assessments, then chose the moment of maximum impact to leak it. This was not a spontaneous decision to make public a single document: it required premeditation and therefore an agenda.”
This theory is strengthened by the fact that the leaks were given to Isabel Oakeshott, a pro-Brexit journalist with ties to Farage and his financial backer Aaron Banks, known as the “Bad Boy of Brexit.”
After the leaks, Farage immediately demanded Darroch be fired. Shortly after, pro-Brexit group Leave.EU, which is funded by Banks, suggested Farage become the new ambassador: “Britain’s anti-Brexit ambassador to the U.S. is what Donald Trump would call a ‘bad hombre.’ He needs to be banished from Washington and replaced by a favorite of the President.”
Accusations of British Servitude
While Brexit advocates often invoke nostalgia for the glory of the British Empire in their argument for reclaiming autonomy, critics point to the Leave campaign’s reliance on the U.S. as a new form of servility.
“Britain lived in an equilibrium with Europe,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, criticizing Brexit. “But now it is becoming a vassal state, meaning it is becoming the junior partner of the United States.”
Historian Max Hastings also challenged the Brexit movement’s strategy of depending on the U.S. for economic support, telling the New York Times: “They have a quite extraordinary belief that if they suck up sufficiently to Trump, this administration will do them favors.”
President Trump holds a 77% unfavorable rating in the U.K., but enjoys strong favor among the conservative party’s hard-right, making the issue of replacing E.U.-cooperation with stronger U.S. ties a polarizing one.
Another issue with Leave’s strategy of replacing the U.K.’s dependence on the E.U. with a bolstered U.S. relationship is the delicate peace on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
E.U. member states are not allowed to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with foreign countries, meaning the U.K. could only strike a new deal with the U.S. after a full withdrawal from the European Union. That would require a newly fortified border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Irish Republic, which remains in the E.U.
Experts warn imposing customs and immigration checks on the now seamless border would reawaken the hostility of “The Troubles,” the decades-long Irish conflict between the mostly Protestant unionists, who wanted to stay in the U.K., and the mostly Catholic nationalists, who wanted to form a sovereign Ireland.
Speaker Pelosi warned in April that Congress would fight any new trade deal with the U.K. if it jeopardized the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is officially recognized as the end of The Troubles. The Good Friday accords pledged cross-border cooperation between Ireland and the U.K., and both countries have defined the open border as “the most tangible symbol of the peace process”
“Let me be clear,” Pelosi told Ireland’s parliament. “If the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday accords, there would be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement.”