Opinion

Britain should stand by its man in DC

LONDON — Its never comfortable having your frank assessments of foreign governments leaked in a way designed to cause the maximum embarrassment.

I should know. When I was the British ambassador in Rome in 2004, I attended a conference held under the Chatham House Rule, which states that comments can be quoted but not attributed. My description of the then-U.S. President George W. Bush as “Al Qaedas best recruiting sergeant” made international headlines and caused a certain frisson between the U.K. and U.S.

Like Kim Darroch — the British ambassador to the U.S. whose frank assessments of President Donald Trump were leaked this week — I found myself in an unpleasant situation, under fire at home and abroad for having spoken the truth in a context I thought was confidential.

There are three important differences, however, between my situation and my colleagues in the U.S.

The first, most important, difference regards the context in which our remarks were made.

Kim Darroch, British ambassador to the U.S. | Riccardo Savi/Capitol File Magazine via Getty Images

The Foreign Office distanced themselves from my comments. When I pointed out that they had been made under what I understood to be privileged circumstances, I was told that I was being naïve: “Whatever the rule, you should expect, if you say something newsworthy, that it will become news.”

Darroch was not speaking at a gathering with others present. He was sending his considered assessments by confidential Foreign Office telegrams. He was not being naïve. He was doing precisely what he is paid to do, to give an unvarnished, frank assessment of his hosts and informed political advice to his government.

The second important difference is the domestic context back home.

It is increasingly clear that the leak of Darrochs confidential communication is part of the Brexit game, designed to harm him for his alleged Europhilia. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was first out of the traps in his criticism of Darroch, describing him as “totally unsuitable for the job and the sooner he is gone the better.”

When I pointed out that they had been made under what I understood to be privileged circumstances, I was told that I was being naïve.

The two men have a certain history. Darroch was British ambassador to the European Union while Farage has long been Britains most high-profile anti-EU MEP. When they were both in Brussels, their mutual dislike was well known. Farage believed Darroch was a Europhile — not a crime at a halcyon time before the Brexit referendum when the British governments policy was to support the EU from within.

Farages criticism of him (and the leakers likely motive) reflect the fact that Brexiteers believe Darroch is an unreconstructed Remainer, like most of the U.K. civil service doing their level best to frustrate Brexit.

There is not a shred of evidence for this, but it has become part of the Brexiteers narrative and forms part of their attack on the impartiality of the civil service (something they weirdly share with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) as well as the judiciary, the BBC and of course the House of Commons itself, which stubbornly refuses to facilitate a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage addresses supporters from the stage at the partys Big Vision Rally | Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

The third difference is the U.S. governments reaction. Darrochs commentary put him in Trumps crosshairs. In a series of tweets Monday, the president played into the Brexiteers narrative, criticizing Prime Minister Theresa Mays handling of Brexit and concluding with the “good news” that the U.K. will soon have a new prime minister. Darroch, the president tweeted, “is not liked or well thought of within the U.S.” adding that, “We will no longer deal with him.”

In another series of tweets, Tuesday, Trump called Darroch “a very stupid guy” and “a pompous fool.” The ambassador has already been disinvited from one function at the White House.

For my part, I was not serving in Washington. So, a U.S. government decision to shun me would have had none or little impact, apart from perhaps a few desultory exchanges with my U.S. colleague in Rome.

If Trump doesnt just mean that he personally will no longer deal with the ambassador, then it will be uncomfortable for Darroch to stay on for any substantial period of time. But it will not be impossible.

For Darroch, the pressure is much greater. If he is not able to, for instance, accompany visiting BritishRead More – Source