Wednesday 17 July 2019

Beleaguered Johnson vows to stand up for UK diplomats

Chancellor leads the critics after failure to back ambassador to US

Leadership bid: Boris Johnson gets a kiss from a supporter at an event in Dover, Kent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Leadership bid: Boris Johnson gets a kiss from a supporter at an event in Dover, Kent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Shaun Connolly

Boris Johnson has vowed to stand up for Britain's diplomats around the world and take a robust approach toward US President Donald Trump if he succeeds in becoming the UK's next prime minister.

Mr Johnson, the favourite to be named as Theresa May's successor on July 23, has been criticised for failing to support Britain's ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, before he resigned this week.

Diplomatic memos from Mr Darroch describing the Trump administration as inept were leaked to a British newspaper, infuriating the US president, who launched a Twitter attack on both the envoy and the outgoing prime minister, Mrs May, who had given Mr Darroch her full support.

Mr Johnson pointedly refused to back Mr Darroch during a televised debate, leading to accusations from fellow Conservative Party lawmakers that he had thrown the ambassador "under the bus" in order to bolster his own ties with Mr Trump.

"I will stand up for our fantastic diplomats across the world," Mr Johnson told a leadership campaign rally yesterday.

The former London mayor said there were reasons to believe Britain's relationship with the United States was the "single most important strategic fact of our times". But he said he had criticised Mr Trump before and would do so again if needed.

"I criticised him as foreign secretary," he said. "We in the UK do not agree with the position of the United States on global warming... [or] their approach to the Iran nuclear deal. We were very robust and will continue to be robust with the US."

Senior Conservatives have continued to attack Mr Johnson over his intervention in the transatlantic war of words.

Chancellor Philip Hammond made clear that he thought the former foreign secretary had not handled the crisis correctly and should have backed the beleaguered envoy to the US more strongly.

Mr Hammond, who said he does not expect to serve in a Mr Johnson-led cabinet, made his displeasure clear.

He told ITV's 'Peston': "I think, as a former foreign secretary, I would have felt the obligation to stand up for a first-class civil servant who has done nothing wrong."

And Tory grandee Nicholas Soames said: "I have to say that I didn't think that Boris behaved in the way that one would expect a former foreign secretary, who understands the important relationships with ambassadors, and the importance of ambassadors telling the truth of what they see and find.

"I thought he hung Kim Darroch out to dry... and I was ashamed to see it."

But Mr Johnson rejected the criticism, telling 'The Sun' newspaper: "I can't believe they're trying to blame me for this. It seems bizarre to me. I'm a great supporter of Kim's. I worked very well with him for years. I think that he's done a superb job. I'd be very surprised that's the construction placed on events."

Opposition Labour Party legislator Liz McInnes called Mr Johnson's behaviour "the most craven and despicable act of cowardice I have seen from any candidate for public office, let alone someone running to be prime minister". Meanwhile, Downing Street confirmed that "initial discussions" had taken place with the police regarding the Whitehall investigation into the source of the leak.

"If there was concern about criminal activity, the police would become involved more formally at that point," a No 10 spokeswoman said.

Also yesterday, a poll revealed that support for the Brexit Party is fading.

According to a BMG Research opinion poll for 'The Independent' in London, the Conservatives and Labour are on 28pc and 27pc respectively, if a UK general election were held today, with the Liberal Democrats on 18pc and Nigel Farage's Brexit Party on 14pc.

The Conservatives are up two points since last month, while Labour is unchanged and the Lib Dems up one. The Brexit Party has lost four points, suggesting that the effect of coming top in the European elections in May is wearing off.

The Lib Dems, on the other hand, who also received a boost in the European elections, are holding on to their share of the vote.

The Green Party which, like the Lib Dems, benefited from a clear pro-Remain stance in the elections to the European parliament, remains unchanged on 6pc.

Irish Independent

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