John­son has thrown Dar­roch un­der the bus, say top Tories

The Guardian - - Front page - Peter Walker Pa­trick Win­tour Rowena Ma­son

Boris John­son is un­der mount­ing pres­sure over his role in Sir Kim Dar­roch’s res­ig­na­tion as British am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, with crit­ics ac­cus­ing the likely next prime min­is­ter of “throw­ing him un­der the bus”.

In a shock move that prompted the se­nior civil ser­vant at the For­eign Of­fice to call an all-staff meet­ing to re­as­sure “shaken” diplomats, Dar­roch said he could no longer con­tinue in the role af­ter a leak of of­fi­cial ca­bles in which he crit­i­cised Don­ald Trump.

The Guardian un­der­stands that he con­cluded he could not go on af­ter he watched Tuesday’s Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship TV de­bate, where John­son re­peat­edly dodged ques­tions about whether he would sack the am­bas­sador if he be­came prime min­is­ter.

Down­ing Street is so un­com­fort­able with the out­come that Theresa May is un­der­stood to be con­sid­er­ing ap­point­ing a new am­bas­sador in her last week as prime min­is­ter – upend­ing stan­dard pro­to­col amid con­cerns that John­son could seek to make a po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment in the hope of pleas­ing Trump.

Amid a con­sen­sus that John­son’s re­fusal to back Dar­roch had made the diplo­mat’s po­si­tion un­ten­able, se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MPs de­scribed the lead­er­ship con­tender’s con­duct as “uned­i­fy­ing” and “con­temptible”. Tom Tu­gend­hat, chair of the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee, de­manded: “If you do not sup­port those you put into very dif­fi­cult po­si­tions, what do you think is go­ing to hap­pen?”

In lan­guage that will be viewed as an im­plicit crit­i­cism of John­son, May told MPs: “I hope the house will reflect on the im­por­tance of de­fend­ing our val­ues and prin­ci­ples, par­tic­u­larly when they are un­der pres­sure.”

It is un­der­stood that John­son, who worked with Dar­roch as for­eign sec­re­tary, later spoke to him to ex­press his “re­gret” at his res­ig­na­tion. Asked why he had not been more sup­port­ive, he in­sisted he

‘It was con­temptible neg­li­gence for some­one who wants to lead the coun­try’ Sir Alan Dun­can For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter

had backed Dar­roch and said it was “wrong to drag civil ser­vants into the public arena”.

Mean­while, a re­newed fo­cus also fell on the iden­tity of the leaker, with the For­eign Of­fice per­ma­nent un­der­sec­re­tary, Sir Si­mon McDon­ald, telling MPs: “We will pur­sue the cul­prit with all the means at our dis­posal. The leaker is guilty of the worst breach of trust in our ser­vice in my ca­reer.”

Asked whether the en­tire es­tab­lish­ment would be ex­pected to sup­port Dar­roch, he said the For­eign Of­fice had noted with grat­i­tude the sup­port given by May and the for­eign sec­re­tary.

While the am­bas­sador’s de­ci­sion to re­sign brought the im­me­di­ate cri­sis to an end, it sparked a new round of re­crim­i­na­tion in the UK and fears that the transat­lantic diplo­matic cal­cu­lus could have per­ma­nently shifted, as:

• No 10 said that dis­cus­sions had be­gun with po­lice over an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the source of the leak.

• Amid fears of more leaks, the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee heard in­quiries would fo­cus on a set of highly sen­si­tive emails sent to as few as five.

• Trump did not im­me­di­ately com­ment, but a se­nior of­fi­cial said the move was “prob­a­bly the right course”.

Dar­roch will stay in the role un­til a new am­bas­sador is ap­pointed – which could be im­mi­nently if May pre-empts her suc­ces­sor. A gov­ern­ment source said she was ex­pected to come to a de­ci­sion within 24 hours.

McDon­ald told the for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee: “Peo­ple are shaken by what has hap­pened and there is a rea­son why I have asked to see all my col­leagues. The ba­sis on which we have worked all our ca­reers sud­denly feels chal­lenged.” He said the episode was a per­sonal tragedy for Dar­roch.

Af­ter John­son praised Dar­roch’s record, Sir Alan Dun­can, a For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter, called the com­ments “insin­cere guff”. “For some­one who wants to lead, let alone unite, the coun­try, that was con­temptible neg­li­gence on his part,” Dun­can told the BBC. “He has ba­si­cally thrown this fan­tas­tic diplo­mat un­der the bus to serve his own per­sonal in­ter­ests.”

The Tory MP Sir Pa­trick McLough­lin agreed, say­ing: “It is uned­i­fy­ing to see some­one who wants to be prime min­is­ter fail­ing to stand up for hard work­ing civil ser­vants, who have done noth­ing wrong, un­der at­tack from for­eign gov­ern­ments. Lead­er­ship in­volves stand­ing up for your team.”

Ad­dress­ing MPs, May said she had told Dar­roch his res­ig­na­tion was “a mat­ter of great re­gret”. Jeremy Cor­byn called his treat­ment “be­yond un­fair”.

The crit­i­cism of John­son was based on his lan­guage in Tuesday’s de­bate, when he re­fused to back Dar­roch even as his ri­val, the for­eign sec­re­tary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would ex­pect the am­bas­sador to stay in post un­til his planned re­tire­ment.

At the com­mit­tee hear­ing, McDon­ald said he knew of no prece­dent where a friendly power had re­fused to co­op­er­ate with a British am­bas­sador. Asked about the im­pact on transat­lantic re­la­tions he said: “It is too soon to have a com­plete or au­thor­i­ta­tive judg­ment. Noth­ing like this has ever hap­pened. There must be con­se­quences.” He later in­sisted the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship could sur­vive any in­di­vid­ual squall.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from Trump, but the vice-pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said the move was “prob­a­bly the right course”. A state de­part­ment spokes­woman said: “The United States and the United King­dom share a bond that is big­ger than any in­di­vid­ual, and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing that part­ner­ship. We re­main com­mit­ted to the US-UK spe­cial re­la­tion­ship and our shared global agenda.”

‘Lead­er­ship in­volves stand­ing up for your team’ Sir Pa­trick McLough­lin Tory MP on Boris John­son

The res­ig­na­tion of Sir Kim Dar­roch fol­lowed the fail­ure of the likely next prime min­is­ter, Boris John­son, to say he sup­ported him stay­ing in post – de­spite be­ing given re­peated chances to do so dur­ing his TV de­bate on Tuesday night with Jeremy Hunt. As the cur­rent For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter Alan Dun­can put it, by six times re­fus­ing to back the am­bas­sador, John­son had thrown him un­der a bus.

With­out the back­ing of the US pres­i­dent or his fu­ture boss, Dar­roch nat­u­rally con­cluded he had no fu­ture as an in­ter­locu­tor be­tween Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton. He re­alised, in the words of a friend who spoke to the Guardian, that John­son had left him no op­tion.

There is now a feel­ing of shock and con­tempt across the For­eign Of­fice and in par­lia­ment – not just at the leaker and Trump, but also at John­son. What­ever sanc­ti­mo­nious ex­pres­sions of re­gret the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date mouths, and how­ever much he blames the leaker, the For­eign Of­fice knows he ef­fec­tively sacked Dar­roch, be­liev­ing he was car­ry­ing out the orders of the pres­i­dent.

Stren­u­ous ef­forts were made in Lon­don to re­mind Dar­roch he had the back­ing of the cur­rent prime min­is­ter, Theresa May, as well as the cur­rent for­eign sec­re­tary, Hunt. But Dar­roch, keenly aware of the im­por­tance of the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship, some­thing to which his ca­reer had been ded­i­cated, de­cided he could not af­ford to be­come an ob­sta­cle to its con­tin­u­ance.

His res­ig­na­tion means the ma­li­cious leaker has got his or her way. It was pretty clear from the out­set that the po­lit­i­cal pur­pose of the leak was to get Dar­roch re­moved, and re­placed by a true Brex­iter of the kind that Nigel Farage, and now ap­par­ently John­son, be­lieves is nec­es­sary if the UK is to ex­tract max­i­mum po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic value from Brexit.

It was also clear that, de­spite the For­eign Of­fice’s protes­ta­tions, Trump was de­ter­mined to black­ball Dar­roch. The am­bas­sador ex­cluded him­self from a meet­ing be­tween the trade sec­re­tary, Liam Fox, and Ivanka Trump to avoid any em­bar­rass­ment for the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter. But he found him­self

Sir Kim Dar­roch earned the post of UK am­bas­sador to the United States af­ter serv­ing as a close ad­viser to the gov­ern­ments of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Tall and gre­gar­i­ous, he was nick­named “Kimbo” at the For­eign Of­fice, where he had be­gun his civil ser­vice ca­reer in 1977 and climbed the ranks of diplo­macy with post­ings from Ja­pan to Italy.

He en­tered the public eye when he was fre­quently to be seen at Cameron’s side as his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser from 2012 to 2015, join­ing him on trips to war­zones and chair­ing meet­ings on crises from Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Ukraine to the col­lapse of the Libyan gov­ern­ment.

But it was his roles prior to that, as Blair’s top ad­viser on Europe and the per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the EU un­der Brown, that led to him be­ing vil­i­fied by Con­ser­va­tive Brexit sup­port­ers, who re­gard him as an arch Eu­rophile.

Dar­roch, who grew up on a coun­cil es­tate and won a schol­ar­ship to the fee-pay­ing Abing­don School, has been de­scribed by those who know him as ur­bane and an ac­com­plished host. When he went to the White House soon af­ter Don­ald Trump was in­au­gu­rated, ac­cord­ing to Politico, the US pres­i­dent told Dar­roch he had seen him on Fox News and told him: “You’re go­ing to be a TV star!”

His soirees at the am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence were events to see and be seen at – es­pe­cially for mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. With an Andy Warhol screen­print of the Queen be­hind him, Dar­roch would make toasts at such events with plenty of quips. At one in 2017 he ob­served: “As you can imag­ine, my first year here as am­bas­sador has been a dull old time.”

How­ever, he was never par­tic­u­larly in favour with Trump him­self, who pub­licly sug­gested that the then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage should be May’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, forc­ing her spokesman to clar­ify: “There is no va­cancy. We have an ex­cel­lent am­bas­sador in Sir Kim Dar­roch.” Even so, he could never have imag­ined that his dis­tin­guished ca­reer would end with the US pres­i­dent pub­licly call­ing him “a very stupid guy”, “wacky” and a “pompous fool”. struck off the din­ner guest list for the visit of the emir of Qatar, and a se­cond meet­ing be­tween Fox and Wil­bur Ross, the US trade sec­re­tary did not go ahead.

Dar­roch spent a rest­less night pon­der­ing whether to quit, or try to sol­dier on un­til he was due to re­tire at the end of the year.

By the time Dar­roch was reached on the phone very early yes­ter­day morn­ing by Sir Si­mon McDon­ald, the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the For­eign Of­fice, it was clear to McDon­ald that the am­bas­sador had made up his mind. Dar­roch had seen a record­ing of John­son’s fail­ure to back him in the TV de­bate, but ac­cord­ing to McDon­ald, the am­bas­sador felt so long as he stayed in Wash­ing­ton he and his fam­ily would be a tar­get.

An am­bas­sador can ac­quire a per­sonal pro­file, but they should not be­come the story or see their views un­moored from the gov­ern­ment they rep­re­sent. Dar­roch could also sense that a wounded Trump meant to carry out the threat to os­tracise him. A diplo­mat is by pro­fes­sion the ul­ti­mate net­worker, and can­not con­tinue if the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are cut. Those were all co­gent rea­sons to re­sign.

John­son’s de­ci­sion not to de­fend him, in the man­ner of Hunt, was a de­lib­er­ate act of sab­o­tage. His ex­pla­na­tion that if he had de­fended him, he would have un­fairly dragged Dar­roch into pol­i­tics is bo­gus. John­son chose to be­tray him be­cause he re­gards his re­la­tion­ship with Trump as crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of Brexit, and he sim­ply could not af­ford to start his premier­ship with a stand­off with the US over an emis­sary for whom he any­way had lit­tle sym­pa­thy.

Bar­ring a dar­ing pre-emp­tive ap­point­ment by May de­signed to thwart John­son, the chances now rise that an ex­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal

ap­point­ment of the kind ad­vo­cated by Farage will now be made.

It is not un­prece­dented. But the loss of Wash­ing­ton, for in­stance to a Brexit busi­ness­man, would be a blow to the pres­tige of the diplo­matic ser­vice, and rep­re­sent a fur­ther sign that in these riven times the con­cept of a neu­tral civil ser­vice is harder to pro­tect.

Diplo­matic tele­grams in fu­ture will all be a bit more grey and cir­cu­lated to fewer pairs of eyes. Those pop­ulist Brex­iters that blame the dis­ap­point­ments in their cause on treach­er­ous civil ser­vants will also feel they have claimed a scalp.

But this episode pos­si­bly fore­tells some­thing about the na­ture of the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship un­der Trump and John­son. By putting all his chips on Trump, and go­ing for the kind of hard Brexit the pres­i­dent be­lieves is avail­able, John­son clearly hopes he will get the gen­er­ous and quick free trade deal with the US. Po­lit­i­cal good­will is the key to un­lock­ing this.

Yet the last three days has also shown a man who, when asked to jump, only an­swers: “How high?” It is not sur­pris­ing that the White House is so op­ti­mistic that John­son will fol­low Trump’s think­ing on is­sues such as Iran, Huawei and Is­rael. But mak­ing sub­mis­sion to a Trump White House the corol­lary of Brexit, John­son risks nar­row­ing the ap­peal of leav­ing the EU.

‘I do not know the am­bas­sador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US’ Don­ald Trump in a tweet on Monday


▼ Trump and Dar­roch at a Capi­tol Hill event last year. The am­bas­sador was close to Trump’s cir­cle

▲ Boris John­son re­fused to back Kim Dar­roch in Tuesday’s ITV de­bate

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