Tory minister vows to apologise to Ivanka Trump over leak of UK ambassador’s remarks about her father

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt threatens ‘very serious consequences’ for those responsible for the release of secret diplomatic cables

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 08 July 2019 11:23
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Jeremy Hunt on US ambassador cables leak 'I'm very concerned about it'

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has threatened “very serious consequences” for those responsible for leaking explosive details of the UK ambassador in Washington’s views on Donald Trump, as another cabinet minister said he would apologise to the president’s daughter Ivanka for the secret cables becoming public.

As a massive leak inquiry got under way in Whitehall, there was anxiety at the Foreign Office that the publication of Sir Kim Darroch’s candid and highly embarrassing messages will inhibit UK envoys around the world from being frank in their reports to London on the state of politics in the countries to which they have been posted.

International trade secretary Liam Fox branded the leak “malicious, unprofessional, unethical and unpatriotic” and said that “the full force of our internal discipline, or even the law” should be brought to bear on the civil servant or politician responsible.

Mr Fox said he would apologise personally to Ivanka Trump for the leak during a meeting in the US capital today, but stressed that the incident should not force Sir Kim out of his post. UK officials have already made it known to the White House London’s “regret” over the leak, said No 10.

Theresa May’s official spokesman said the prime minister continued to have “full faith” in Sir Kim and his ability to continue doing his job.

The spokesman said it was an ambassador’s responsibility to give “an honest and unvarnished assessment of events in their country”, but added: “Those views are not necessarily the views of the government.”

The leak inquiry will be led by the Cabinet Office, but “if criminality is found, the police would then be involved”, he said. It was too early to say whether the Official Secrets Act had been breached, he added.

It is understood that the question of a breach of the act would depend on the precise content of the information revealed.

Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts said: “The issue is not what Kim Darroch reported. It is that someone with access to classified material collected reports going back three years and leaked them to the Mail. [It is] the second time following Huawei that national security information had been leaked for political ends.

“The government cannot run a foreign policy if the confidential advice of diplomats is leaked to damage them and, in the process, our national interest.”

In a cache of documents obtained by the Mail on Sunday, Sir Kim – whose posting to Washington comes to an end later this year – branded the Trump administration “inept” and said that media reports of “vicious infighting and chaos” at the White House were “mostly true”.

In response, Mr Trump said the ambassador had “not served the UK well” and his administration was “not big fans” of the envoy.

There was speculation in Westminster that the unprecedented release of Sir Kim’s “diptels” – diplomatic telegrams – was intended to undermine his position in Washington and ensure he is replaced by a more Atlanticist, pro-Trump, pro-Brexit figure. The journalist who obtained the documents, Isabel Oakeshott, has close links with senior Brexiteers, having ghostwritten an account of the referendum campaign for former Ukip donor Arron Banks.

Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the US (gov.uk)

Mr Trump himself has previously suggested Nigel Farage might make a good ambassador to the US, but sources close to the probable next prime minister Boris Johnson are said to have dismissed the idea of a posting for the Brexit Party leader as “for the birds”.

Mr Farage has called for Sir Kim’s removal, but insisted he did not think he was himself “the right man for that job”.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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.”

Mr Hunt told a press conference in London he was “very concerned” about the leak.

“Fundamental to the proper functioning of our diplomatic network – which I happen to believe is one of the finest, if not the finest, in the world – is to be able to exchange opinions frankly,” he said.

“So we need to find out how it happened, not least to give confidence to our teams all over the world that they can continue to give us their frank assessments.

“That is why we are going to have a leak inquiry. I hope we can get to the bottom of it. Of course there will be very serious consequences if and when we find out who is responsible.”

Mr Hunt said he did not share Sir Kim’s “personal view” of the US president and his administration, but added: “I do defend his right to make that frank assessment.”

It was “not acceptable” for the ambassador’s communications to have been leaked, said Mr Hunt.

Mr Fox, who is visiting the US, told the BBC: “Malicious leaks of this nature are unprofessional, they are unethical and they are unpatriotic, because they can actually lead to damage to that relationship which can, therefore, affect our security interests.

“I think it is unconscionable that any professional person in either politics or the civil service can behave in this way.”

He added: “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.”

But the international trade secretary said: “I don’t see, frankly, that this is an impediment to the ambassador being able to work in Washington.”

Asked if he would use a meeting with Ivanka Trump to apologise for the ambassador’s remarks, Mr Fox made clear that he would instead be apologising for the “lapse” by the civil servant or politician responsible for the leak.

“I will be apologising for the fact that either our civil service, or elements of our political class, have not lived up to the expectations that, either we have or the United States has about their behaviour, which in this particular case has lapsed in a most extraordinary and unacceptable way,” he said.

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