A Brexit Architect Sees Trade Opportunities in the Resignation of U.K.’s Trump-Bashing Ambassador
A future U.S.-U.K. trade deal could benefit from the resignation of Kim Darroch as British ambassador to Washington—at least, according to a key architect of Brexit.
Darroch quit Wednesday, following an extraordinary diplomatic storm around leaked comments in which he derided President Donald Trump’s administration as “uniquely dysfunctional” and “chaotic.” The leak prompted a furious retaliation from Trump, who insulted Darroch on Twitter and said he refused to work with the ambassador.
All in all, it’s the lowest point in a long while for the supposed “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. But some see a silver lining.
“The right decision,” tweeted Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party and, in his former incarnation as U.K. Independence Party leader, one of the principle campaigners for the U.K.’s departure from the EU. “Time [to] put in a non-Remainer who wants a trade deal with America.”
Darroch previously served as the U.K.’s permanent representative to the European Union, under former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and Brexiteers view him as being overly sympathetic to the EU.
One of the main rationales behind Brexit is that it will allow the U.K. to strike its own trade agreements. Right now it cannot do so, because being in the EU means negotiating and signing trade deals as a bloc. The EU does not have a free-trade agreement with the U.S., but the U.K. would be able to enter into such a deal after leaving the EU.
Apart from Farage, the other chief cheerleader for Brexit was Boris Johnson, who is highly likely to become Britain’s next prime minister, and he is taking serious flak for his role in the Darroch affair.
Although Johnson once accused Trump of “quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States,” he has recently been quite tight with Trump.
As foreign secretary, a role he quit last year, Johnson said he was “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump,” and argued that the president’s chaotic style would be useful in trying to get a good Brexit result. A couple months ago, Trump backed Johnson in his bid to replace May. Shortly afterwards, when Trump outraged British politicians across the spectrum by suggesting that the country’s beloved health service should be “on the table” in U.K.-U.S. trade talks, Johnson was one of the few leadership candidates not to attack the president.
Johnson’s stance on the leaked Darroch memos is widely seen as having been the final straw for the embattled ambassador. In a Tuesday debate against U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s rival in the prime minister race, Johnson refused to back Darroch or to condemn Trump over his tweeted insults against the ambassador.
May and Hunt had both supported Darroch in the dispute. But, according to the Financial Times, Darroch told colleagues after the debate that it was clear Johnson would fire him ahead of Darroch’s planned retirement at the end of the year, so he walked the plank instead. The Guardian also separately reported that the debate made up Darroch’s mind.
Johnson, as a result, is receiving heavy political blowback, with ministers from his own Conservative party lashing out at his failure to stand up for Darroch. “[Johnson has] basically thrown this fantastic diplomat under a bus to serve his own personal interests,” said Europe Minister Alan Duncan.
“If the U.K. can’t protect diplomatic communications and that costs people their careers when all they’ve done is to execute the wishes of the government, we will degrade the quality of our envoys, diminish our influence and weaken our country,” tweeted Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative Party lawmaker, following the news of the resignation.
But how did the memos leak to the Mail on Sunday in the first place? Hunt has confirmed that the government is considering the possibility that Darroch’s diplomatic missives were hacked and passed on by a hostile state, possibly Russia, Iran, or China. Whether or not this turns out to be true, the police are now involved in the investigation.
As for the identity of Darroch’s replacement, it’s by no means clear that he or she will be more enthusiastic about either Brexit or the prospect of a U.S. trade deal. Because Darroch resigned now, rather than waiting for Johnson to take over, the next ambassador could be appointed by May, who is still hanging around as caretaker prime minister until her replacement is chosen by party members.
Might Farage get the job? When the Brexit Party leader called on Wednesday for Darroch’s replacement to be a “non-Remainer who wants a trade deal with America,” some saw it as a thinly-veiled attempt at self-nomination.
The idea of Farage as ambassador has been floated before: Trump suggested Farage replace Darroch back in 2016. At the time, the British government shot down the idea, saying Darrach was doing the job just fine, thanks.
Even with the ambassador role now vacant, Farage’s critics in the U.K.—there are many—are recoiling at the idea.
“Who could Farage be thinking of?” tweeted Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party. “The last thing that should happen is the politicization of the civil service and the replacement of honorable diplomats with charlatans like this guy.”
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