The UK government has launched an investigation into who leaked to the media diplomatic memos from the UK ambassador in Washington.
A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Independent a "formal leak investigation will now be initiated" after the Mail on Sunday obtained the highly sensitive documents in which Sir Kim Darroch called the Trump White House “uniquely dysfunctional” and questioned whether it “will ever look competent”.
In one scathing assessment, he wrote: “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.”
The top diplomat also suggested that in order to communicate with the US president “you need to make your points simple, even blunt”.
Although likely to prove highly embarrassing for the government, the Foreign Office defended Sir Kim’s comments as an “honest, unvarnished” assessment of politics in the US.
“Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid. Just as the US ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities,” a spokesperson said.
“Of course we would expect such advice to be handled by ministers and civil servants in the right way, and it’s important that our ambassadors can offer their advice and for it remain confidential.
“Our team in Washington have strong relations with the White House and no doubt ... these will withstand such mischievous behaviour.”
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had earlier called for a probe and said whoever was responsible for the “very serious breach” should be prosecuted.
The Conservative MP also defended Sir Kim, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One the job of an ambassador was to “represent the interests and wishes of the British people” and that “diplomats must be able to communicate securely”.
Justice secretary David Guake branded the leaks “disgraceful” and said the ambassador was correct to offer his “unvarnished advice” to government.
Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader and friend of Donald Trump, tweeted the leak showed Sir Kim was “totally unsuitable for the job”.
Following Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK in June, Sir Kim warned that although the president had been “dazzled” by the pomp and ceremony of the trip, his administration would remain self-interested and “this is still the land of America First”.
In one of the most recent documents, Sir Kim referred 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.
The US and Iran have been at the brink of armed conflict over tensions in the Gulf, and Mr Trump stated that he called off a planned air strike with minutes to spare because of the potentially high number of casualties.
But Sir Kim said that the explanation “doesn't stand up”, and suggested it may have been motivated by Mr Trump’s focus on the 2020 re-election campaign and his previous promises not to involve the US in foreign conflicts.
“It’s more likely that he was never fully on board and that he was worried about how this apparent reversal of his 2016 campaign promises would look come 2020,” Sir Kim said.
He said it was “unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent any time soon” as “this is a divided administration”.
In a particularly sensitive leak, a 2017 letter to the National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill – sent 150 days into the Trump administration – laid bare the trouble in the White House.
Media reports of “vicious infighting and chaos” were “mostly true” despite the president’s attempts to brush them off.
Referring to the early allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the memo said “the worst cannot be ruled out”. An investigation by Robert Mueller published earlier this year cleared Mr Trump of collusion, but not of obstruction of justice.
Additional reporting by PA
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