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.

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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.

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