‘Boris must choose our new man in Washington’
Trade talks make it crucial for Johnson to pick ambassador if he enters No10, say allies
ALLIES of Boris Johnson last night insisted he must be free to choose the UK’S new US ambassador, should he become prime minister, after Sir Kim Darroch resigned in the wake of the leaked diplomatic cables row.
Sir Kim stood down yesterday afternoon, saying his position had been made “impossible” after Donald Trump said the US would not deal with an ambassador who described his administration as “inept”.
Sources close to Sir Kim claimed Mr Johnson’s refusal to back him in Tuesday night’s Conservative leadership television debate had prompted the decision, with one senior source saying he was “very hurt”.
Yesterday Theresa May said Sir Kim’s departure was a “matter of deep regret” and No 10 said a new appointment would be made in due course. Sources said the process was a simple one that could be initiated before the Prime Minister was due to leave office.
Julian Lewis, the Tory chairman of the defence select committee and a Johnson ally, expressed concern there could be “temptation for an outgoing prime minister to appoint to a plum job one of her inner circle”.
Names in the frame included Sir Mark Sedwill, the head of the Civil Service, who could be given the job as a reward for loyalty toward Mrs May.
But supporters of Mr Johnson said he must make the appointment if he became prime minister so as not to bind his hands in trade talks.
Mr Johnson’s allies also suggested that the next ambassador could be a political appointee rather than a civil servant – someone who could help Mr Johnson with securing a trade deal with the US and is aligned with the new government’s Brexit strategy.
Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s former chief of staff who became ambassador in Paris after he left No 10, was cited by one source as a precedent.
One Cabinet ally of Mr Johnson said: “If it is an ambassador of the UK Government, you would expect the person who is leading the Government for the foreseeable future, not just for the next two weeks, to make the appointment.”
Another senior figure in the Johnson camp added: “It would be fair to leave that decision to an incoming prime minister, whoever that may be, because he has to have confidence in them. It is wholly in her gift now, but I don’t know what the rush is. If she does – what the hell can we do about it? Nothing.”
However, Sir Alan Duncan, the Foreign Office minister, called on Mrs May to appoint a replacement – and “the sooner the better” – to stop Mr Johnson having a say.
Mrs May quits as Prime Minister in two weeks and No 10 left open the possibility that she would make the appointment herself.
Downing Street declined to say when Sir Kim’s successor would be appointed other than saying that it would happen “in due course”.
The Foreign Office confirmed the process for appointing such a highprofile position in the diplomatic service was “bespoke” and could happen quicker than the normal recruitment process, which usually takes months. The row came as it emerged that the police had been
called in over the leak of the diplomatic cables. Sir Simon Mcdonald, Foreign Office Permanent Secretary, told MPS yesterday: “The leaker is guilty of the worst breach of trust in our service in my career. The damage over three days is evident in the resignation of the most senior British diplomat.”
Sir Kim’s decision to resign came after the US president said that the White House would no longer have any dealings with him following the leak of dispatches describing his administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional”.
The ambassador resigned after Mr Johnson repeatedly refused during a prime time ITV debate on Tuesday evening to say whether or not he would keep Sir Kim in post if he became prime minister.
It also emerged that Mr Johnson rang Sir Kim yesterday afternoon to express his “regret” over his resignation after critics said that his failure to back the US ambassador during a live debate with Mr Hunt had made Sir Kim’s position untenable.
A source who saw Sir Kim last night said: “He was very hurt. Not just because it was Boris but because it was a former foreign secretary refusing to back him.”
However, ministers and senior MPS who are backing Mr Johnson to be Tory leader and thus prime minister said that Mrs May’s successor should hire the official who will play a vital role in securing a US trade deal after Brexit.
Mark Francois, the former defence minister and a leading Eurosceptic, claimed that leaving the decision to Mr Johnson “would obviously be the right thing to do” because of the diplomat’s importance “regarding a future trade deal with the US”.
Meanwhile, officials were braced for a slew of new disclosures in this weekend’s newspapers – including about Mr Johnson, Iran and other ministers, sources have told The Telegraph.
Sir Simon said: “I’m bracing myself. I fear there may be more.”
Sir Simon also revealed that Mr Trump could veto whoever was appointed to be the next UK ambassador to Washington.
He told the MPS that the last time this happened was in 1856, when an ambassadorial appointment was blocked over his links to the Crimean War.