Kim Darroch: Britain cannot permit a foreign government to dictate who is appointed as ambassador

Do you expect Ambassador Kim Darroch will stay as the UK Ambassador to the US after President Donald Trump claimed – We will no longer deal with him. How would you say the UK should/will manage the situation? Red few comments.

UK Ambassador to US Kim Darroch shakes hand with US President Donald Trump celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 2018. Credit: Twitter of Amb. Kim Darroch, https://twitter.com/KimDarroch

Oliver DaddowAssistant Professor in British Politics and Security, University of Nottingham

It seems to me that this is a politically motivated leak using documents going back up to 2 years, including therefore Johnson’s period as Foreign Secretary. It comes on the back of a long campaign by hard Brexiters since 2017 to discredit central elements of the UK civil service, as with many institutions of UK national life such as the judiciary and academia, for not being pro-Brexit enough and/or for being too ‘Remain’ to deliver a ‘pure’ Brexit. The whole point of an Ambassador is to give frank, honest advice from ‘on the ground’ about the ‘mood music’ and soundings she or he takes about current developments and likely possible future scenarios from on the ground in the host country. To have that advice leaked is to undermine the necessary secrecy on which the ambassadorial system relies, especially in such a febrile climate as that instigated by Brexit.

Trump’s position is interesting in that he clearly has no time for Theresa May (see his recent negative comments about her negotiation of Brexit for instance) and thinks Johnson is a ‘good guy’ with whom he can deal (ie, ride roughshod over). Harder Brexiters in the UK have also leapt on the leak as evidence of a civil service ‘betrayal’. I strongly suspect however that other countries’ ambassadors might be writing the same things to their home governments, perhaps even worse, about Trump. To think that replacing Darroch with Farage (or an equivalent character) would be an impartial appointment is fanciful to the point of delusion, not to mention dangerous given his obvious inexperience. Brexiters also forget how angered they were by Obama’s ‘interference’ in the 2016 referendum on the Remain side (I wrote about it). Their short memories serve no other purpose than clouding the issue and rewriting history to get a preferred Trump enthusiast installed in a Johnson administration, undermining the whole point of the UK’s Embassy in Washington in the process.

James D. Boys, US Policy Analyst

Sir Kim was expected to leave his post in the coming months. His anticipated departure was likely to have been reviewed further in light of the forthcoming change in leadership in Downing Street. The weekend’s developments, however, place his tenure in sharp relief. As long as the White House refuse to receive him, his viability as Her Majesty’s ambassador is clearly in disarray. However, under no circumstances can Theresa May, or for that matter, any Prime Minister, permit a foreign government to dictate who is appointed as ambassador, or demand their removal for stating positions that are less than flattering to the host government. This is a truly terrible diplomatic development that is likely to place severe strains on the UK-US relationship for the remainder of Theresa May’s time in office, as well as during the start of her successors tenure in Downing Street.

Iwan MorganProfessor of US Studies, Institute of the Americas, University College London

Darroch’s term as Ambassador is due to finish at the end of this year.  He may be allowed to complete that term in order for the UK not to look servile to the US with an immediate recall.

IF (when) Boris Johnson become PM, however, he may decide to put someone new in there but even he is unlikely to do so right away.  He’ll need to find a new person and he’ll have lots of other things to occupy his attention, not least Brexit.  He might wait till October to act on Darrow.

But the key issue for the UK government is actually the leak being a breach of national security and the recent tendency of the permanent government in Whitehall i.e. the civil service to embarrass the political government.

Kurk Dorsey, Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

This has been a fascinating diplomatic moment!  I suspect that about 3/4 of the ambassadors in Washington and 3/4 of professional US diplomats agree with Ambassador Darroch’s assessment–they’re just grateful that they haven’t written down similar thoughts or are worried that they might be leaked too.  But as we learned from Wikileaks and similar document dumps, such blunt assessments of foreign leaders are quite common in diplomacy, and in fact they are exactly what diplomats are supposed to offer their governments.

Still, once such thoughts became public it was evident that the ambassador would have to be recalled.  Trump’s statements since then are the Twitter version of the old concept of declaring a foreign diplomat persona non grata, at which point he has to leave.

I expect, though, that he will be given a cushy temporary post somewhere until the storm settles given his long record of service.  He will then be given another important job.  I doubt that any serious person in the British government thinks he was in the wrong here.  Then there will be a new ambassador who will be reminded to keep such honest opinions to a minimum until the source of the leaks is identified!

Robert SinghProfessor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London

Darroch is due to leave his post at the end of this year anyway. So, I suspect that he will be ‘encouraged’ to bring his departure forward, especially if/when Boris becomes PM. I don’t think that it’s a massive issue – the strengths and weaknesses in the US-UK relationship transcend one individual – but it is an irritant and will weaken the UK’s leverage in Washington while he’s still there.

Darrell WestVice President and Director of Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

It is hard to say what will happen. There will be a new prime minister soon and that person may want a new ambassador. It is not unusual for new chief executives to put their own people in top positions. I don’t think a government is going to let any other nation dictate who the ambassador is. No one wants to capitulate to another country.

John HarperProfessor of American Foreign Policy, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University

I suspect that the amb. will come home soon for a holiday and never return to Washington. Certainly when Johnson becomes PM will be replaced.

 

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