Kim Darroch and the assault on national sovereignty

The leaking of confidential memos is being shamefully exploited by all sides.

Tim Black

Tim Black


Even if we do find out why someone leaked two years’ worth of confidential emails from the outbox of Kim Darroch, now the former UK ambassador to the US, it is unlikely to make the spectacle any more edifying. For a start, Darroch’s honest assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency, delivered in confidence, was hardly earth-shattering. Apart from The Donald, who doesn’t think his administration is ‘incompetent’ and ‘dysfunctional’, and his policy on Iran ‘chaotic’ and ‘incoherent’? More importantly, in judging and assessing Team Trump, and gauging how any relationship with it might work in the UK’s interest, he really was just doing his job. Yet, thanks to this leak, he has been forced to resign.

Not that his resignation was a surprise. Trump’s predictably tweeted response, calling Darroch a ‘very stupid fool’ and a ‘pompous guy’, made his position untenable. The two-facedness of diplomacy, in which foreign officials may be flattered in public meetings, and scathingly assessed in private communiqué, is only sustainable if the private, national face is never revealed in public. Sadly, Darroch’s has been. And with that, any schmoozy lobbying on Britain’s behalf was impossible.

But worse than this childish, deliberately embarrassing exposure of what ought to be confidential has been the response from those using the leak to battle over Brexit.

Brexiteers have seized on it, demanding, in the words of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, that ‘the sooner [Darroch] is gone the better’. Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice went further, damning Darroch’s willingness to criticise Trump, and even sketching out who should replace him: ‘In order to promote a free trade deal, what we need over there is a successful, competent, pro-Brexit businessman.’

All of this – exploiting the leak, and backing Trump against a UK ambassador working in the national interest – is absurdly ironic. The Brexit Party is meant to believe in national sovereignty, which means that a nation ought to be able to select its own civil servants, including its ambassadors, regardless of the views of other nation states. And, yet, here we see the party that asserts national sovereignty, kowtowing to the wishes of a foreign power (so-called special relationship notwithstanding) in its desire for a different ambassador – indeed, a party that asserts national sovereignty, while happily exploiting its leaked violation.

It is a mistake, but an all too predictable one. For too long, leading Brexiteers have conflated defending the 2016 referendum result with defending, and cheerleading for, Trump, as if both are mere parts of some coherent political movement, rather than specific, distinct responses to a complex socio-political crisis.

Hence they can’t delineate the two, and see the democratic virtues of one and the presidential vices of the other. It almost makes it inconceivable that one could support Brexit and be highly critical of President Trump, such is the Brexit Party leaders’ worldview. And the result is a painful contradiction, between the principle of national independence from the EU and the belief in global dependence on Trump’s America. It is to want self-government in one instance, and to deny it in another.

But, if anything, those currently rallying to Darroch’s side are even worse. Seeing the leak as some sort of Brexit putsch, orchestrated by a Brexit-supporting civil servant, a Brexit-supporting journalist (Isabel Oakeshott) and the wider Brexiteer network, they make the right points – about diplomatic protocol, about the imperative of national interests, about confidentiality and secrecy – but they do so for the wrong reasons.

That is, they do so not because they believe in the sovereignty of the nation and its institutions, but because they feel threatened precisely by those asserting the sovereignty of the nation and its institutions, against the EU. They worry that what they see as a further attempt to politicise the civil service will make Brexit happen. So they defend the Whitehall ‘machine’, because they believe that it is a machine running in their interests – and against Brexit. Just as they defended parliamentary sovereignty after the Brexit vote, because they felt parliament, comprised of largely Remain-supporting MPs and Lords, would also vote in their interests – and against Brexit.

If the Brexit Party’s attacks on Darroch were mistaken, Remainers’ defence of Darroch is profoundly hypocritical. They act as if they are defending the integrity and independence of the Foreign Office against US interference, while eagerly accepting interference if it comes from the EU.

So while the Darroch affair has revealed little about US-UK relations, it has shown that neither the leadership of the Brexit Party nor the Remain establishment has a strong attachment to the ideal of national sovereignty.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty Images.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Keith Young

14th July 2019 at 3:57 pm

I tend to take the view that Darroch’s comments were inappropriate for a diplomat because I would expect someone in his position and with his experience to have sufficient control of his language to be able to infer what he thought without being explicit. I have frequently written mails that expressed my opinions without feeling the need to be rude. Darroch could not expect those comments to be leaked, but why did he feel the need to make them in the way he did. I suspect he may have been playing to a domestic audience – trying to appeal to his political bubble. Andrew Neal made the point this morning on Twitter:

“One final point re Darroch. He was not quite the brilliant ambassador
establishment opinion now portrays him. He had built excellent lines
into Clinton team during 2016 election. But almost none to Trump because he never thought he’d win. So when Trump did win U.K. embassy was bereft of high level contacts in
Trump team. In some desperation feelers we’re put out to certain Trump
associates. Over time decent lines were established. But in private Darroch was sometimes vocally disparaging of Brexit, which did not endear him to some closest to Trump.”

This is confirmed here:

While it would be reasonable for the person leaking the story to be prosecuted because their actions have potentially damaged UK interests, the paper that published them should not be prosecuted because they were simply doing their job. A free press is an essential part of our political system and has to be defended whether we agree with them or not.

What upset the Brexit Party was the damage it might to do to our relationship with the US. I can understand that. However, I doubt that Trump has given it a second thought. He has far more important things to focus on.

Robert Pay

13th July 2019 at 12:17 pm

Senior officials in the Trump administration were already cancelling meetings with the ambassador and making clear that they would not be meeting U.K. ministers visiting D.C. if Darroch were to be present. It should have been obvious that, however unfairly, Darroch would have to go. Seemingly, Theresa May’s cabinet — which is every bit as dysfunctional as the Trump White House, and then some — failed to grasp this inevitability. It sent him a message of undying support in the middle of the week. Johnson was apparently the only person around with any sense of prudence and balance. And it was these qualities that got him into trouble…National Review…I live in Manhattan. This did not get much airtime, the Darroch is now free to join the establishment punditry. The way the BBC is treating this shows they are desperate to join the Resistance as soon as Boris is PM. Everyone will have to be as suspicious of the mainstream media as we are here…everything is spun to fit the narrative. I am frequently explained to by New Yorkers that Brexit was the result of lying and Russian manipulation…just like Trump. They brook no dissent because it was in the (NY) Times.

William McCall McCall

13th July 2019 at 8:12 am

Darroch clearly is a gold-plated memeber of the political class and a long-time denizen of the Swamp. For an ambassador to use language that he did to describe the US President and his Administration is simple bad manners, but then people like Darroch determine what they regard as “manners”, Trump may not be what the British Political Class regard as ‘refined’ but the evidence shows that he has done more for the USA in two years than Theresa May has done for Britain in her entire life!


12th July 2019 at 9:52 pm

President Trump is not out of the old mould of mouthing platitudes to allies and enemies alike. He rightly puts the interests of his country first which is an anathema to many of the left persuasion who seek one world government through the corrupt auspices of the United Nations.
President Trump is a breath of fresh air in a world where the democratic rights of the individual is rapidly declining. He says what he thinks and pushes a hard case for the United States.
I wish we had more leadership of his kind in the world. We could do with one in Australia.

Jerry Owen

11th July 2019 at 12:54 pm

Darroch is clearly anti Brexit and anti Trump.. wouldn’t we be right to worry how Darroch gets involved in trade deals between the two countries? Is he helping them or hindering them ?
We just don’t know, so he had to go.

Jonnie Henly

11th July 2019 at 2:47 pm

“We don’t know so he had to go”

Wow, and right wingers have the cheek to accuse liberals of policing people’s private opinions…

NJ Fulton

13th July 2019 at 6:25 am

It wasn’t a “private opinion, it was in an official email! By all means diplomats should give their assessments, but Darroch’s language got personal. He was using the cliche personal insults about the man found in the anti-Trump media. We all know the establishment is anti-Trump and anti-Brexit, Darroch’s words are just more proof of this.

In Negative

11th July 2019 at 11:39 am

My uninformed take on this:
1) Darroch’s views of Trump can be seen as much as the opinion of the global establishment as much as they can be seen as an accurate representation of Trump’s presidency. He’s ‘their’ guy.
2) The essentially rightist British Brexit faction then, just in time for Boris’ election, get to install their own Ambassador with the US.
3) With us leaving the EU, a closer relationship with the US appears to be the way Boris wants to go. That’s most likely the way the majority of right-leaning, free market types would like to go. Removing Darroch pretty much allows them to build this bridge more easily.

In short, the total absense of the left from any positive Brexit has also meant the Left has exited any viable discussion about the future. I suspect the culture of our impending Brexit will be culturally right-wing for the forseeables

Jane 70

11th July 2019 at 4:35 am

Awful Osborne is being touted as a possible replacement for Darroch: I can’t see The Donald welcoming him with open arms.

And did Darroch have some encouragement when composing his emails? The FCO mandarins probably agree with his imprudent assessments.

Predictably, the Russians have been drawn into the plot; when in doubt, if the spin doesn’t do it, blame the Russians.

Where would the commentariat be without Trump and Putin, bogey men du jour?

Neil McCaughan

11th July 2019 at 2:36 pm

Several idiots, including that bag of wind Nicholas Soames, were touting the ridiculous Karen Pierce for the job.

Here’s a radical thought. Why not appoint someone whom Trump and Bolton might actually take seriously?

Dennis Ambler

13th July 2019 at 8:18 am

Ozzie Osborne would do just fine…

Stef Steer

10th July 2019 at 7:17 pm

The real problem is that Darroch like most of the civil service is giving a biased viewpoint that has little to do with British interests and everything to do with the EU’s interests (and the remain establishment).

Why should brexiteers support people who are not impartial in any way, not looking out for Britain’s interests just looking out for remainer (EU) interests. I think its better to openly say these people will try their hardest to block brexit and make it as difficult as possible to be a sucess. Supporting them is not doing us or Britain any favours.

Boris when he becomes PM should look for a complete solution for civil service bias and if he can’t find one then we just need to accept that civil servants are just as biased as politicians and can expect to be replaced on mass when a government changes.

Jonnie Henly

11th July 2019 at 11:44 am

“The real problem is that Darroch like most of the civil service is giving a biased viewpoint that has little to do with British interests and everything to do with the EU’s interests”

Citation needed.

Neil McCaughan

11th July 2019 at 2:38 pm

Don’t you read a newspaper? Never see the TV? Do you live in a sensory deprivation tank? Reading your comments, it looks like the answer to the last is “yes”.

Jonnie Henly

11th July 2019 at 2:48 pm

Neil, stop posturing and actually provide an answer. If you can.

James Clow

10th July 2019 at 6:47 pm

I think the only thing anyone can deduce for certain is that security relating to diplomatic cables is clearly crap. Maybe the government should spend less time trying to apply national nanny filters and more time on it’s own security.

James Knight

10th July 2019 at 6:07 pm

He could hardly do his job as diplomat if the US doesn’t want to work with him. And you can hardly blame them.

Given that he resigned it seems he understood that. But he blamed Trump for his “unprecedented” attacks on him. How about some circumspection? Is the Trump administration any more dysfunctional than May’s? Did he advise her of that in the new spirit of Glasnost?

Jerry Owen

10th July 2019 at 3:55 pm

The irony of this post by Tim Black is that it is more about attacking Brexit Trump Farage and Tice than Darroch who is the one responsible for this mess. Had he been the consunmate ambassador he should be this wouldn’t have arisen. Absolutely right that Darroch has fallen on his sword… diplomat ? Absolutely not. Totally unprofessional.
What is even worse is our treasonous PM cheering in the commons for him , cheering for an unprofessional incompetent man. But then it takes one as they say.
This is another attempt by the establishment to destroy a post Brexit trade deal with America.
It is equivalent of the Democrats hoping the American economy collapses so they have a chance of re election.
Traitors the bloody lot of them.

Neil McCaughan

10th July 2019 at 4:26 pm

How do I uptick that?

Jerry Owen

11th July 2019 at 8:19 am

Thank you.. I also miss the old system of upticking !

Jane 70

11th July 2019 at 11:37 am

And an uptick from me….

Jonnie Henly

11th July 2019 at 11:42 am

Did Darroch leak the papers?

If not, it’s hard to see how he’s a “traitor” here.

NJ Fulton

13th July 2019 at 6:28 am

Spot on! Darroch is no impartial diplomat. He is just another member of the anti-Trump and anti-Brexit brigade, as is the author.

Roger Clague

16th July 2019 at 4:41 pm

Typical Spiked saying both sides are wrong.
Darroch was not working for UK
Brexit and Trump are the same .

Hana Jinks

10th July 2019 at 2:39 pm

Dim Hack.

Why on earth would you be criticising someone for pointing out the unsuitabilty of an ambassador that runs a negative running-commentary on America’s dealings with the islamic state of iran?

Mark Bretherton

10th July 2019 at 2:30 pm

Lets face it, any diplomat who throws a congratulations party for one of the candidates in a foreign election ON THE NIGHT OF SAID ELECTION has no diplomatic skills at all and should have been recalled as soon as it came to light.

John Millson

10th July 2019 at 2:18 pm

A well balanced piece.
Wasn’t it the absurd Richard Tice putting himself forward as the replacement the other night? A figure very much like him then featured in one of my, now regular, Brexit-themed-‘dystopian’ nightmares.

Neil McCaughan

10th July 2019 at 1:50 pm

A crude and obvious put up job by the poisonous snake in Downing Street.

The leak was intended to alienate the President, foul up UK-US relations, and make lif difficult for the incoming Boris Johnson.

Why? Because the President has offer the United Kingdom a trade deal, while Mrs May’s puppeteers in the EU have refused us. A healthy constructive relationship with the USA is the last thing the EU-loving swamp wants. No wonder May’s Court Dwarf, Alan Duncan, sounded nervous when threatening a police investigation ……

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