The Story Behind the Resignation of the US Ambassador

US Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch

Sir Kim Darroch was Jon Cunliffe’s (now deputy Governor BoE) immediate predecessor in the top Brussels job, the EU Ambassador or ‘Perm Rep’,  followed thereafter by Sir Ivan Rogers. The British Foreign Service is quite rightly considered as among the best in the world and there is every reason to believe that Kim Darroch is one of the very best, given that he has held the two top jobs (EU and US ambassador).

Someone who knew him very well in Brussels was Bobby McDonagh, now retired (and able to speak freely), who was the then Irish ‘Perm Rep’. By all accounts the British and Irish in the EU have had, until Brexit, an ever deepening and closer relationship, so McDonagh’s opinion is extremely valuable. He writes in the Irish Times:

Darroch was my British opposite number when I was Ireland’s ambassador to the European Union some years ago. Like many of his colleagues, he was superbly effective at promoting British interests. His sensitivity to the concerns of other member states, including Ireland, contributed to his impact.

The Supposed Misdemeanor

Kim Darroch in secret cables from Washington stated of Trump’s White House “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.”

This should come as no surprise to anyone watching the unfolding chaos in Washington. As Ian Dunt writes “it would be a news story if the ambassador did not think this. In fact, it would be grounds for dismissal on the basis that he was unable to exercise sound judgement”.

McDonagh’s Irish times article goes on to say:

Darroch, in providing London with his confidential analysis, was simply doing his job. The suggestion that his reports were undiplomatic demonstrates a lack of understanding of diplomacy. An ambassador is supposed to be diplomatic when dealing with his or her host government.
But ambassadors are worth their salt only if they are prepared, when appropriate, to be undiplomatic in their confidential reports to their own government. Most reports will be of a more specific factual nature. However, from time to time, an effective ambassador should offer his capital insights into some deeper realities.

This makes absolute sense, but nice to have it confirmed by a former high level Ambassador.

Why the Leak?

It is widely believed that Sir Kim is very anti-Brexit, but as a professional diplomat he needs to remain strictly impartial. One of his  successors as Perm Rep, Ivan Rogers, has now retired, can speak freely and is indeed very anti-Brexit. Brexit of course will diminish the UK  and good analogy for Brexit is that of Flip Chart Rick in Brexit is the Road to Nowhere:

Perhaps a better way of understanding [Brexit], though, is to imagine that people had voted to get rid of motorways. After all, few of us like motorways. It’s much more pleasant to drive on A and B roads. If someone promised that it would be possible to get where you needed to go just as quickly on A roads and that you need never drive on a motorway again, there would be plenty of takers.

Nevertheless Brexit now resembles a religious cult and there is a belief that all top positions must be purged of unbelievers for Brexit to work. For many, also, realignment with the US is a goal and a rapid and sweet trade deal with the US a prize worth having. Horrifyingly, 54% of Tory members believe that Trump would make a good PM. Realignment with the US is a possibility, provided the Good Friday Agreement is respected. This however would not be a good idea, as any economic gains would be minimal and totally swamped by the losses of leaving the European area.

Far more important perhaps would be the loss of sovereignty. David Henig writes of a likely Trump UK trade deal: An abusive relationship with a now vulnerable country:

A deal without mutual benefit is scarcely trade, and the deal President Trump has in mind seems closer to an abusive relationship with a vulnerable country than a genuine partnership. There are those this week who will rush to embrace the president’s promises of a trade deal. But any dispassionate assessment of his record over the last three years suggests we should avoid him at all costs.

There is even talk in some circles of Nigel Farage becoming the next US ambassador. This is ridiculous on many levels. The UK diplomatic service is a professional one which recruits from the very best in the UK and requires years of intensive training. Not only is Farage nowhere near the calibre required, there is every reason to believe he would put his own interests or even that of the US before that of the UK.

A Well Coordinated Leak

As Molly Scott Cato writes:

[The leak was via] the pro-Brexit journalist Isabel Oakshott, with key Brexiteers exploiting them to attack the civil service and diplomatic corps and call for the removal of non-Brexit-supporting civil servants.

Oakshott seems little more than a mouthpiece for Arron Banks or as Molly Scott Cato puts it, “the favourite ‘journalist’ of the Bad Boys of Brexit.” There is no question that the leak came via their ranks, but must have had collusion with the ERG or other pro Brexit  members with access to confidential diplomatic cables.

The fact that the thin skinned president of the US, Trump reacted appallingly was entirely predictable, branding the UK ambassador ‘very stupid’ and Theresa May ‘foolish’ and declaring that the White House would no longer work with Sir Kim Darroch.

Horrifying, as usual, was the air time given to Farage by the BBC calling for the Ambassadors dismissal. Why Farage’s opinion on this matter is of importance is a mystery. There also seems to be significant coordination between the Trump team and Farage and it is no secret that he wants the job of Ambassador to the US. He is the  choice of Trump, many of the right wing tabloids and the bookies favourite.

Loss of Sovereignty

Despite the PM and many in the the Tory party honorably giving Sir Kim complete support, in the Tory party’s leaders debate, the front runner Boris Johnson refused to back Sir Kim creating headlines such as Johnson has thrown US ambassador under the bus, say top Tories. This placed Sir Kim in an impossible position and he felt he had to resign.

This is truly appalling. The top UK diplomat forced out of office on the whim of a capricious president of a foreign power. One who has no respect for the UK and it seems the exact opposite. This has every appearance of an alt-right coup and a the the dark forces which exerted themselves during the Brexit referendum showing their influence. This is the exact opposite of a restoration of sovereignty.

Aftermath

It is too early to tell but there seems a backlash against Sir Kim’s resignation. One would expect Farage, his team, and right wing rags such as the Mail to be gloating. This seems not to be the case and one hopes that this is a wake up call.

B Johnson is shedding crocodile tears over his departure, but the test will be who is appointed the new ambassador. My preference would be to ask Sir Ivan Rogers to come out of retirement, but at the very least one of the top professional UK diplomats the country shows such excellence at producing rather than some mediocrity of a political appointment. It is extraordinary that Farage is the bookies favourite and an indictment of the level of political knowledge in the UK.

It has been a really dismal episode and one hopes the source of the leaks is discovered and the real crime prosecuted rather than this non story.

Comments

  1. Sam Johnson -

    The Tories are playing Jenga with the UK.

    It will end in the dissolution of the union. It’s like watching a hijack film in painfully slow motion.

    I see the Irish Times mooting a last minute compromise on the backstop. I am opposed and I believe most in Ireland are. What’s needed instead is a clear indication of burden sharing within the EU. Supposedly measures have been agreed but they are not yet disclosed. Meanwhile, Steve Barclay has been telling Barnier that Ireland will suffer more than the UK if the UK leaves with no deal, which is untrue and which ignores the catastrophic impact on NI (the bastard child of previous rape of the former hostage).

    From an Irish perspective Brexit without a withdrawal agreement is the effective equivalent of an act of aggression threatening its place in the single market and its autonomy. If the EU can’t help face down this kind of aggression it is less useful than we hoped.

    However, I am hopeful that things are going to end badly for the at-right. I’ve seen expressions of regret for votes cast for Johnson and think he will end up devoured by the tiger he has attempted to ride to 10 Downing Street. Very interesting corroboration of the fragility of the union emerges by the day, suggesting his win will be short-lived (Jim Cornelius has wagered £10 on it being the shortest prime ministership ever, shorter than George Canning’s 118 days) and Pyrrhic. And we must spare a laugh for the DUP whose celebration of making a bonfire of the rights of others has now resulted in their prospective humiliation in choosing which of the things that make them foam at the mouth they can still veto. What a choice, Irish language rights or equal rights to the rest of the UK on abortion and marriage. When the head of the Orange Order says, as reported yesterday, that he’d accept the result of a vote for Irish unity that’s a sign of realization that the days hegemony are over and those of respectful coexistence can at least be considered.

    I haven’t seen it but there was a programme on RTÉ last night that trended on Twitter with the hashtag #shouldertoshoulder that may be worth trying to catch up on. Check the hashtag for the gist. A possible sign of some very new music.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      I do hope so. It is likely Northern Ireland will be very badly affected in a no-deal Brexit, loosing c 40k jobs, which is equivalent to c 1.4m over the whole of the UK. This is a big deal because job creation in NI is glacial and it may take nearly two decades to recover.

      In a worst case scenario IE might loose 80k jobs, but I think 88k jobs were added last year. UK exports are now below 10% of the total

      There is zero appetite to reopen the WA so it will be showdown in the Autumn. I think a NI only backstop or United Ireland is becoming more likely.

      The best outcome of course would be for HMG to revoke A50, but just maybe the UK will pivot towards a Peoples Vote. I do worry for England; a country with so many wonderful and talented people not least Sir Kim and Sir Ivan hounded out of office for doing their job, while charlatans like Farage and Johnson seem to wield so much power. I’m not sure what it takes to wake the English up.

  2. Peter May -

    What is so depressing about all this is that obviously clever people (Ivan Rogers is a good example) will no longer be attracted to civil service jobs because they are continually hung out to dry by pigmy politicians. The fairly recent documentary on the foreign office (yes, when Johnson was there!) showed that he was not much more than a child continually having to have his hand held.
    If the hand holders all leave then we’ll be facing further disaster.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Agree completely Peter. This sends out a dreadful signal, and talented people will steer clear. I suspect many talented people will move abroad and the “brain drain” will be replicated in spades. EU immigration is already plummeting and as blogged a few months ago there is a near record flow of UK people moving to Ireland.

      This is before if Farage has his way the Civil Service will be purged of all but true believers in Brexit.

  3. Andrew Dickie -

    Those who fear we’re heading for a 51st State situation, if the Boris/Trump love-in comes to pass, are grievously mistaken.

    Instead, we are headed for Puerto Rico 2 status, as a despised quasi-colony of the USA, with no political voice. I believe Puerto Rico still hasn’t received any Federal aid to offset the hurricane damage of two years ago, because it doesn’t have any Senators or Congressmen to push for it. We’ll be in the same situation, only worse, as a carcase to be picked over by asset-strippers.

    “Taking back control”? No way!

    1. Peter May -

      Quite right re Puerto Rico, though we would have our own currency. Mind you that’s no indication that those in power would actually use it!

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