Tuesday 15 October 2019

Johnson under fire for pushing ambassador to quit over furore

Fall guy: Kim Darroch has resigned his position in Washington. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Fall guy: Kim Darroch has resigned his position in Washington. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Dean Gray

Conservative MPs have rounded on Boris Johnson after it emerged that the US ambassador had decided to resign in the wake of the senior Tory's lack of support.

Kim Darroch said his job had become "impossible" after the leak of diplomatic memos highly critical of US President Donald Trump's administration.

His decision is understood to have been made after Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to support him during a televised Tory leadership debate on Tuesday.

Downing Street said that Prime Minister Theresa May spoke with Mr Darroch shortly before PMQs, when the ambassador informed her of his decision to quit. Mrs May told him his resignation was a matter of "great regret".

Mrs May had written to Mr Darroch on Tuesday to assure him off her support and that of the cabinet, said her official spokesman.

The spokesman declined to say whether Mrs May had tried to persuade Mr Darroch to stay, or whether the ambassador had mentioned Mr Johnson's comments in Tuesday's TV debate, saying it was a"private conversation".

He was unable to set out the timetable for the appointment of a successor, or say whether it would be completed by the time Mrs May leaves office, saying only the it would come "in due course".

The spokesman said Mr Darroch also spoke to the Foreign Office's most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Simon McDonald, but was unable to say whether this came before his conversation with Mrs May or whether she was informed in advance of his resignation.

Mr Darroch resigned after days of stinging criticism from Mr Trump, leading to accusations that Mr Johnson had "thrown him under the bus".

Memos from Mr Darroch in which he described the Trump administration as inept were leaked to a British Sunday newspaper, infuriating the US president, who launched a Twitter attack on both the envoy and outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had given Mr Darroch her full support.

As the spat between the two close allies intensified, Mr Trump said he would no longer deal with the "very stupid" Mr Darroch and called Mrs May "foolish".

Mr Darroch said his position had become untenable, but supporters clearly blamed Mr Johnson for refusing to back him.

"Since the leak of official documents from this embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador," said Mr Darroch, who was due to step down at the end of the year.

"I want to put an end to that speculation. The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like."

In his confidential memos dating from 2017 to the present, Mr Darroch (65) had said reports of in-fighting in the White House were "mostly true", and last month described confusion within the administration over Mr Trump's decision to call off a military strike on Iran.

"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," Mr Darroch wrote in one cable.

It led to a scathing tirade from the US president.

"The wacky ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy," he tweeted, saying Mr Darroch was a "pompous fool". Britain prides itself on its "special relationship" with its closest ally and Mr Trump himself described it as "the greatest alliance the world has ever known" during a lavish state visit to the UK last month.

That relationship is of particular importance to London now, as it hopes to strike a major trade deal with Washington as one of the upsides of leaving the European Union.

Mr Darroch, a career diplomat who previously served as Britain's envoy to the EU, had been accused by some Brexit supporters of being biased towards the bloc.

Mr Trump himself had previously suggested that Nigel Farage, now leader of Britain's Brexit Party, would be a good choice as ambassador.

While Mrs May said the government did not share Mr Darroch's views of the Trump administration, she said British ambassadors should have the freedom to give frank assessments.

"I have told him it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position as ambassador to Washington," she said. "The whole cabinet rightly gave its full support to Sir Kim on Tuesday."

Irish Independent

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