Ministers today insisted US ambassador Sir Kim Darroch will not be sacked despite Donald Trump’s fury over secret messages branding him ‘clumsy and inept’.
In a series of cables, Sir Kim gave a scathing assessment of the White House under Mr Trump, questioning whether it ‘will ever look competent’.
Mr Trump retorted that the diplomat had ‘not served the UK well’, with aides raising doubts that he could continue in the post until his expected retirement in January.
But both Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Trade Secretary Liam Fox today leapt to the defence of Sir Kim, saying he was merely ‘doing his job’.
Meanwhile, Downing Street dismissed the idea that Russia could have been behind the ‘unacceptable’ leak – and vowed a probe would be held to catch the mole.
A spokesman for the PM said: ‘The PM has full faith in her ambassador to Washington. Our ambassadors provide honest, unvarnished assessments of politics in their country.’
The diplomatic telegrams are believed to have been circulated to around 100 people since 2017, including senior ministers and their special advisers. Former mandarins said they believed the Official Secrets Act had been breached.
Speaking this morning, Mr Hunt said: ‘Our ambassador was doing his job. But it is important to say this was a personal view.
‘It is not the view of the British government and it is not my view.’
In a series of cables, Sir Kim Darroch (pictured) gave a scathing assessment of the White House under the US President, questioning whether it ‘will ever look competent
Donald Trump has previously called for Mr Farage to be the UK’s man in Washington and said he believed the leading Eurosceptic would do a ‘great job’
Both Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured in Westminster today) and Trade Secretary Liam Fox have leapt to the defence of Sir Kim, saying he was merely ‘doing his job’
Dr Fox, on a visit to the US this morning, labelled the way the material surfaced as ‘malicious’ and ‘unpatriotic’.
He said the ‘full force’ of the disciplinary process should be brought down on whoever leaked – suggesting they could even face criminal action.
‘This is such a damaging, potentially damaging, event, that I hope the full force of our internal discipline, or even the law, will come down on whoever actually carried out this particular act,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Sir Kim is pictured with his wife Lady Canessa in Washington DC in April 2016
However, he insisted that Sir Kim could stay in his job.
‘I don’t see, frankly, that this is an impediment to the ambassador being able to work in Washington,’ he said.
Brexit Party leader Mr Farage, a close ally of the president, today dismissed the idea that he could get the plum post.
The news comes just weeks after Sir Mark Sedwill, Theresa May’s national security adviser, set up an inquiry at her request into leaked discussions about the Chinese firm Huawei and its role in Britain’s 5G network.
He pointed the finger at former defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who was sacked, but is expected to return to a top post if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister.
Former National Security Adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant said today that he believed Mr Williamson would have been on the circulation list for the material from Sir Kim.
‘It didn’t go to such a wide circle of people so I hope it would be possible to identify (the leak source),’ he told Sky News.
‘If the law has been broken, which it probably has, it probably is a breach of the Official Secrets Act, then the person should be prosecuted.’
Mr Hunt told a press conference in Westminster today that there would be ‘serious consequences’ if the culprit was found.
‘It’s very important that our ambassadors and high commissioners around the world continue to feel that they are able to express those frank views,’ he said.
‘Because we have one of the best diplomatic networks in the world and the foundation of that is the free exchange of information and opinions, and the understanding that we are not always going to agree with each other, but we want to know what people around the world are thinking.’
Downing Street said the UK had expressed ‘regret’ to the White House about the leaks.
‘The PM does not agree with that assessment,’ Mrs May’s spokesman said.
‘As you have seen most recently with the state visit the prime minister has a good relationship with the president and the government works closely and constructively with the administration across a wide range of issues.’
Could Sir Kim Darroch be sacked?
Sir Kim Darroch was already widely expected to retire in January, having served in Whitehall for decades.
But the spat over his secret memos about Donald Trump has sparked speculation he could go earlier.
Sir Kim could find it very difficult to operate effectively in Washington now his scathing private views about the US administration have been revealed.
But there will be huge resistance to any action against Sir Kim that could be seen as bowing to American pressure – or punishing him for doing what was effectively his job.
The likelihood is that Sir Kim will be allowed to ride out the current storm, and depart when it has died down.
The spokesman added: ‘As you’d expect contact has been made with the Trump administration setting out our view that we believe the leak is unacceptable.
‘It is of course a matter of regret that this has happened.’
Sir Kim’s assessments of the Trump administration in briefing notes from 2017 to the present are highly embarrassing for the Foreign Office.
One suggests that in order to communicate with the president ‘you need to make your points simple, even blunt’.
He also says: ‘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.’
Another note questioned whether the White House ‘will ever look competent’.
Following Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK in June, Sir Kim warned that although the president had been ‘dazzled’ by the pomp, his administration would remain self-interested and ‘this is still the land of America First’.
In one of the most recent documents, Sir Kim refers to ‘incoherent, chaotic’ US policy on Iran and questions Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off a retaliatory air strike against Tehran following the downing of an American drone.
Media reports of ‘vicious infighting and chaos’ were ‘mostly true’ despite the president’s attempts to brush them off, he said.
Nigel Farage (pictured last week) has called for Sir Kim Darroch to be replaced over his frank assessment of the state of the Trump White House
Referring to allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the memo said ‘the worst cannot be ruled out’.
Mr Farage, whom Mr Trump said would do ‘a great job’ as Britain’s ambassador to the US, said Sir Kim was ‘totally unsuitable for the job’.
He added in a tweet that the ‘sooner he is gone the better’.
However, he dismissed the idea he could be in line to replace him.
‘I’m not a diplomat, and I think that’s quite an understatement,’ Mr Farage said. ‘I don’t think I’m the right man for that job.
Farage dismisses idea he could be next ambassador to the US
Nigel Farage today dismissed the idea that he could get the plum post.
The Brexit Party leader, a close ally of Donald Trump, has been mooted as a potential replacement for Sir Kim Darroch.
But he said today: ‘I’m not a diplomat, and I think that’s quite an understatement.
‘I don’t think I’m the right man for that job.
‘But, am I the right man to try and help forge a better, closer relationship in terms of intelligence, security and trade with an administration that contains friends of mine?
‘Yes, I could be very useful.’
‘But, am I the right man to try and help forge a better, closer relationship in terms of intelligence, security and trade with an administration that contains friends of mine? ‘Yes, I could be very useful.’
Allies of Mr Trump last night told the
And Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said whoever was responsible for the leak should be prosecuted. ‘Diplomats must be able to communicate securely’, he told the BBC.
He also tweeted: ‘It’s just another betrayal. People who do this undermine the interests and security of the British people. There a word for that – treason.’
But Mr Gauke told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘It is very important that ambassadors give honest advice.
‘It is disgraceful that it has been leaked. We should expect our ambassadors to tell the truth as they see it.’
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the memos were ‘not the view of the British Government’, adding: ‘It’s not my view.’
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who supports Mr Johnson’s bid to be Tory leader, told Sky News: ‘I wouldn’t pass that sort of very personalised judgment.
‘The thing with diplomatic cables, I would be quite careful about what you say which is on a personal basis in those cables because it is all very well talking about the substance of the relationship, the policies, but I think some of that may in retrospect be regarded as unwise.
‘But I am sure the two sides will get beyond those comments.’
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country.
‘Our team in Washington have strong relations with the White House. No doubt these will withstand such mischievous behaviour.’
JUSTIN WEBB: Sir Kim’s assessment of Trump is tamer than most, but the leak couldn’t have come at a worse time
So what, after being called ‘inept’, ‘insecure’ and ‘incompetent’, will Trump now think of this senior British diplomat? Asks JUSTIN WEBB (pictured)
By Justin Webb for the Daily Mail
One of the more striking things about Sir Kim Darroch’s view of Donald Trump is that, for all the outrage that has met yesterday’s revelations, almost anyone who has ever spoken about the President has said much the same thing. Or worse.
Book after well-sourced book has revealed to the world that the 45th president’s administration is not exactly a model of efficiency: anyone in Downing Street with time to pop to Waterstone’s might already have reached the same conclusions as the well-paid British Ambassador.
So why do these leaks matter so much?
Primarily, because, as most people have learnt by now, Trump himself is peculiarly thin-skinned and given to extroardinary rages.
As his presidential chronicler Michael Wolff cuttingly puts it in his most recent book Siege: ‘Not only is Trump not like other presidents, he is not like anyone most of us have ever known… To have worked anywhere near him is to be confronted with the most extreme and disorienting behaviour possible.’
So what, after being called ‘inept’, ‘insecure’ and ‘incompetent’, will Trump now think of this senior British diplomat?
If experience is anything to go by, he is unlikely to shrug magnanimously and chuckle to himself, as his predecessor Barack Obama might have done.
Instead, Trump may prove to be utterly infuriated by these characterisations. He may ensure that the leaks have a painful and lasting impact on the day-to-day ability of British officials to get access to the Trump inner circle and advance our interests in the American capital.
That is why these leaks could not have come at a worse time. With both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt promising to take Britain out of Europe by the end of October with or without a deal, Britain’s mandarins already recognise that they need their most important bilateral relationship as never before. Now their work has been made much harder.
British civil servants are already under extreme pressure. The historic constitutional idea of a neutral body, not dependent on the vagaries of elections, offering dispassionate advice to the Government, has been deeply damaged by the Brexit negotiations.
Pictured: Sir Kim Darroch speaks at the British Embassy in January 2017
Officials have – unfairly, they say – been blamed for the mess in which the country now finds itself.
Meanwhile, an inquiry has been launched after one senior civil servant leaked to a journalist claims that Jeremy Corbyn’s physical and mental health leave him unfit for office.
Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Service, has called for this anonymous briefer to be sacked.
It is all threatening, say many commentators, that reassuring way we have of doing things which was so beautifully depicted in the 1980s TV programme ‘Yes, Minister’.
There, though the method was gently sent up, the Government was always managed with sound advice.
But back to yesterday’s leaks. More worrying perhaps even than any potential damage to the US-UK relationship is the sense that this leak feels like an attack on officialdom.
If officials can’t brief in secret, how can they do their jobs? How can they advance our interests abroad?
It is true that this is not the first ambassadorial leak. My friend Sir Nigel Sheinwald, who was ‘our man in Washington’ in 2008 after Obama had won the Democratic nomination for the presidency, was deeply annoyed when it was reported that he had said Obama could be ‘uninspiring’ in debates.
Eleven years ago, of course, Obama’s fluent and soaring oratory was much-praised by the commentariat. Nonetheless, despite some red faces, the special relationship survived.
However, the unique personality of Trump, the fact he is actually installed in office, and the severity of the criticism – all make this much more serious.
If a second electoral victory came to pass, we would surely see Trump unbound.
Will that happen? Sir Kim believes that this scandal-hit presidency could conceivably ‘crash and burn’ long before the next election, and that ‘we could be at the beginning of a downward spiral… that leads to disgrace and downfall’.
In this he echoes Trump’s former ally Steve Bannon, who has reportedly said that Trump ‘won’t go out classy’.
In that context, I wonder, whether Trump might in fact have relished Sir Kim’s vivid description of the President ’emerg[ing] from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator’.
Donald Trump holds grudges. Perhaps Britain now has a vested interest in seeing the Democrats elected in 2020. Otherwise it could get very unclassy indeed.
Justin Webb is a former BBC North America correspondent.
Wit who went from council flat to public school… then to Washington
Sir Kim Darroch was handed one of the most prestigious jobs in the diplomatic service several months before Donald Trump entered the White House.
The Washington ambassadorship – with its lavish embassy parties – is far removed from the council flat Sir Kim grew up in on an Oxfordshire council estate.
Described as witty and humorous by those around him, he was a bright youngster and won a free scholarship to attend Abingdon School, a leading public school that charges £20,000 a year for day pupils.
‘I think I was the only person in the school uniform walking out of this council estate every morning to go to school,’ he recalled in a recent interview.
He joined the diplomatic service in 1977 after leaving Durham University with zoology degree.
From 2007 to 2011 he served in Brussels as the UK Permanent Representative to the EU.
Pictured: UK ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch (pictured in Washington in 2017)
Knighted in 2008, the 65-year-old was David Cameron’s national security adviser from January 2012 to September 2015 before going to Washington.
He is nearing the end of his diplomatic career. In an interview last year he said, ‘I don’t want to sound all Monty Pythonesque’, before adopting a mock Yorkshire accent to add: ‘I were brought up in’ paper bag.
‘But I grew up in a council flat . . . and perhaps because of my background I never feel like I’m in a gilded cage. This job is the privilege of my life.’ Sir Kim and his wife Vanessa soon settled into the private apartment in the embassy, widely regarded as the finest in Washington DC.
His name rose to prominence after the president’s election victory when Mr Trump called for Nigel Farage to replace him as the UK’s man in Washington.
No10 was forced to insist there was ‘no vacancy’ and praised Sir Kim as an ‘excellent ambassador’.
He had earlier hit the headlines when, soon after Mr Trump’s election win, The Sunday Times reported on a secret memo in which Sir Kim apparently suggested the UK could exploit Mr Trump’s inexperience in office.
The memo said: ‘The president-elect is above all an outsider and unknown quantity, whose campaign pronouncements may reveal his instincts, but will surely evolve and, particularly, be open to outside influence if pitched right… We should be well placed to do this.’
Leaked memos showed Sir Kim had questioned whether the current version of the White House ‘will ever look competent’