Rivals to Become Britain’s Next PM Spar Over Trump’s Criticism of UK Ambassador and Theresa May

By Patrick Goodenough | July 9, 2019 | 10:50pm EDT
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt debate on ITV on Tuesday night. (Photo by Matt Frost/ITV via Getty Images)

(Update: British Ambassador Kim Darroch has resigned, the Foreign Office said Wednesday, citing him as saying that “the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.”)

(CNSNews.com) – A transatlantic spat over the leaked views of the British ambassador in Washington spilled over into British politics on Tuesday, with the two men running to be the next prime minister tussling over how to confront the issue after President Trump said his administration will “no longer deal with” the ambassador.

The row came up during a televised debate between Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary who is viewed as favorite to be the next Conservative Party leader and thus prime minister.

Hunt, who earlier in the day had tweeted critically in response to Trump’s provocative comments about Ambassador Kim Darroch and outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, doubled down during the debate.

He said Trump’s “comments about Theresa May were unacceptable and I don’t think he should have made them.”

Asked his view, Johnson said he thought Trump had been “dragged into a British political debate in the way he sometimes is.”

“I don’t think that necessarily the right thing for him to do, as Jeremy has said, but let’s face it, our relationship with the U.S. is of fantastic importance,” he added.

Hunt declared that, if he becomes prime minister, he would not remove Darroch from his ambassadorial post before he is scheduled to retire, at Christmastime.

“Who chooses our ambassadors is a matter for the United Kingdom government and the United Kingdom prime minister, so I have made it clear that if I am our next prime minister the ambassador in Washington stays, because it’s our decision.”

For his part, Johnson first declined to say whether he would keep Darroch in his position until he is due to retire, saying he would not “be so presumptuous” as to think he might be in a position to make that decision.

“What I will say,” he then added, “is that I and I alone will decide who takes important and politically-sensitive jobs such as the U.K. ambassador to the U.S.”

The row erupted on Sunday when a British tabloid published excerpts from leaked confidential cables from Darroch to officials in London in which he sharply criticized the Trump administration.

“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” one of the leaked documents reportedly said.

In response, Trump tweeted on Monday, “I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US. We will no longer deal with him.”

Trump also renewed his earlier criticism of May’s failure to secure a deal on Britain’s departure from the European Union, which prompted her resignation.

“I have been very critical about the way the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit,” he tweeted. “What a mess she and her representatives have created. I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way.”

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted critically again about Darroch – calling him “wacky” – and about May’s Brexit negotiations.

“I told [May] how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way – was unable to get it done. A disaster!”

Those tweets brought a response from Hunt, aimed directly at the president:

“@realDonaldTrump friends speak frankly so I will: these comments are disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country. Your diplomats give their private opinions to @SecPompeo and so do ours! You said the UK/US alliance was the greatest in history and I agree ... but allies need to treat each other with respect as @theresa_may has always done with you. Ambassadors are appointed by the UK government and if I become PM our Ambassador stays.”

‘Most important alliance in history’

In Tuesday’s debate, both men stressed the importance of the bilateral relationship.

Hunt said he agreed with Trump that it was “the most important alliance in history” while Johnson described the U.S. as “our most important ally, and I think the single most important geostrategic fact in the last 100 years has been the closeness between the U.S. and the U.K.”

British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A British government inquiry into the leaks of the ambassador’s cables is underway, with officials quoted as saying the focus leaned towards an internal leak, rather than the work of a foreign government or hackers.

(In 2010 the State Department scrambled to contain the fallout after WikiLeaks posted thousands of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, many of which contained candid assessments about foreign officials and policies.)

Johnson said it was vital that the civil service “is not politicized by ministers leaking what they say.”

After Trump tweeted Monday that the administration would no longer deal with Darroch it was reported that the ambassador had been deliberately excluded from a Treasury Department dinner for the visiting emir of Qatar.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Tuesday the department has not received instructions from the White House to cut contacts with the embassy or ambassador, however.

“We will continue to deal with all accredited individuals until we get any further guidance from the White House or the president, which we will, of course, abide by the president’s direction,” she said.

Britain’s next prime minister will be chosen by some 160,000 Conservative Party members voting by mail-in ballot, with the winner expected to be announced on July 23.

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