Update: This blog was published before Sir Kim Darroch resigned as UK ambassador to the USA after leaked comments describing the Trump administration as “inept”, “incompetent” and “uniquely dysfunctional”.
Sir Kim Darroch is evidently the victim of an especially nasty and disgraceful betrayal by those who are supposed to be his colleagues. Somebody – probably a member of the benighted pox of ‘political advisers’ who have come, mainly since the days of Thatcher and Blair, to disfigure the Whitehall scene – has deliberately leaked his highly sensitive and classified telegram about the Trump White House for the evident purpose of creating a vacancy in Washington for some favoured associate.
Ambassadors are not in fact ‘sent abroad to lie for their country’ – not in the main anyway – but to report truthfully and with insight to their own government what is going on in the country to which they are sent. They cannot confidently do that if members of their own government at home are going to leak what they have said, contrary to every obligation of law and morality.
There doubtless is some creep in the heart of government – to whom amongst a very few Sir Kim’s telegram would have been accessible – who has taken it upon himself to decide that some political friend should have the Washington job, and that embarrassing Sir Kim beyond endurance is the kind of dirty tactic that is needed to remove the present highly respected incumbent.
The next time the ambassador is sending a despatch to London he may find it difficult not to wonder who will be reading his words; and, so, he may feel tempted to pull his punches; and his analysis may become muted and less valuable. This consequence of the low skulduggery in the high reaches of government is a curse, which has become widespread within the last forty years.
In my time in Washington it never occurred to me to worry that what I wrote would be passed to the gutter press to promote some political prank. It never was, though doubtless I had my critics.
Indeed, I did occasionally say things to other ambassadors in the knowledge that their reports of what I had said might be read by American eyes, as a way of confirming the close alignment of British and American policies in the time of President Carter. But it needed no traitors or gutter press to transmit the message.
I am of course the last person to make any case against appointing outsiders to represent Britain in Washington, having myself been a ‘non-career’ appointee. Whoever is foreign secretary after the Conservative Party has chosen a new leader and prime minister will be fully entitled to choose the ambassador he thinks will best do the job.
There are always strong arguments for appointing an experienced career man. There may occasionally be arguments for an outsider, as in the case of Lord Harlech during the Kennedy administration. But there can never be a case for what appears to be happening in the present case, a dirty manoeuvre by an anonymous scumbag to make the current ambassador’s position nearly untenable in order to clear the path for a favoured replacement.
It matters not whether the shabby hand that has wielded this weapon was motivated by politics – such as preference for an ambassador with a different outlook on Anglo-American or perhaps European politics – or by personal ambition, such as the advancement of a friend and perhaps of himself.
When people accept responsible positions either as ministers accountable to parliament or as shadowy ‘advisers’ skulking behind the scenes, they are given access and information on a basis of sacred trust and under an accepted obligation of strict confidentiality. They betray this at the peril of their souls and of the universal condemnation of those who know what they have done.
The robust defence of Sir Kim by the present Foreign Secretary does him credit; and it is to be hoped that all the instruments of the Cabinet Office’s star chamber will be deployed to expose the culprit. Meanwhile, sensible people will rally to the defence of Sir Kim so that he can continue to send honest assessments of President Trump to those in London who need them – unrecycled by the Daily Mail.
Peter Jay is a former UK ambassador to the US