Darroch’s ousting is a blessing to Britain — it means we no longer have to fawn over Donald Trump

Without the ‘special relationship’, Britain can speak out more forcibly on the danger of pulling out of the Iran deal. It can avoid falling into line on issues as random as relations with Venezuela. The possibilities are endless

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 11 July 2019 10:04 BST
Theresa May on Kim Darroch's resignation: 'It is a matter of great regret'

In the blunt assessment of the foreign diplomat, the administration was “dysfunctional”.

“One agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure and information is closely guarded,” read one cable he sent home. “There was a compartmentalised siege mentality.”

The words were private, but got leaked. As a result, the ambassador had to resign to maintain “the strong relationship between our two countries”.

The year was 2011, and the envoy was Carlos Pascual, the US ambassador to Mexico, whose view that America’s southern neighbour was an ineffective partner in “the war on drugs” was published by Wikileaks. It was one of thousands of embarrassing insights US diplomats had provided to the state department, made public by the whistleblower site.

So while the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch is not unique, it ought to make us think, not least about what we mean by a strong or special relationship.

There is intense speculation as to who provided the Darroch cables to journalist Isabel Oakeshott, a longstanding Brexit supporter who is close to Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft and Aaron Banks, a one-time backer of Ukip.

It seems clear who most immediately benefits from them being made public: Boris Johnson, the man likely to be Britain’s next prime minister, and who is liked by Donald Trump. He will now have a free hand to appoint his own person in Washington. (Unlike Jeremy Hunt, Johnson notably refused to support the ambassador when questioned this week.)

Beyond that, there is a way everyone in Britain could benefit. Trump’s bad-tempered, bullying response to revelations a UK diplomat considered his administration dysfunctional (hardly a point of view found only in classified cables) – as well as the fact that Darroch had to resign – underscore the folly of those who believe there is anything special about the relationship between Britain and the US.

The job of Washington ambassador is the most coveted within the foreign service, but it is also a vessel doused with hemlock. The task of any diplomat is to get to know the major players in the host nation, by all and any means.

Alan Duncan says Boris Johnson has 'thrown' Sir Kim Darroch 'under the bus' by not supporting him

This may mean inviting then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue to play tennis, as former ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer did in the early days of George W Bush’s administration.

Meyer’s successor, Sir David Manning, was less of a social butterfly than Meyer, and did not share his penchant for colourful socks. But he worked hard to insert himself into the Bush world.

The Downing Street memos, published in 2005 and revealing the UK was aware the US was threatening to go to war with Iraq as early as the summer of 2002, showed Manning too met routinely with Rice, and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowtiz.

Trump’s claim that Darroch was “pompous” and “wacky” are false. If anything, he was more cautious in his remarks than some of his predecessors. He also worked hard to cultivate contacts.

Trump and the secretary of state Mike Pompeo may not have been regulars at the ambassador’s residence, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, but plenty were, including White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, senior members of the national security council, and senators from both parties, among them Ted Cruz.

The reality is, though, it is chain-gang labour to be a diplomat in a country whose leader has little interest in diplomacy, except for photo opportunities.

We’ve reached a sorry state of affairs: a US president so thin-skinned he refuses to deal with the ambassador of a supposed ally; a lame-duck prime minister too feeble to offer more than lukewarm support for her envoy; and her likely successor so gleeful he can barely conceal his smiles.

How should Britain respond? By finally accepting there is no special relationship between these two countries that speak a vaguely similar version of the same language; that, in words of Lord Palmerston, there are no “permanent friends or allies”.

London should stop bowing and scraping to Washington in a way that long ago became embarrassing. It ought not to rush to reward people such as Trump with a state visit and tea with the Queen.

Some will say there is a risk to this. In a post-Brexit world, the UK may not get a special trade deal from the US – not that this was ever a sure thing – and it may lose its seat in the upper echelons of strategic affairs.

Yet the benefits are bountiful. Britain would no longer feel bound by the US’s interests, or constrained by some fanciful belief it is still an empire.

With such blinkers removed, Britain could speak out more forcibly on the danger of pulling out of the Iran deal; it could point to the lethal risks presented by ignoring climate change; it could avoid falling into line on issues as random as relations with Venezuela. It would not feel obligated to join the illegal invasion of a foreign country based on deceit and lies, that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

It would, in short, be able to speak the truth. Much as Sir Kim Darroch did.

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