Boris Johnson has been heavily criticised by fellow Tory MPs over his role in Sir Kim Darroch’s decision to resign as the UK ambassador to Washington, with one backbencher saying the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership contest should come to the Commons to apologise.
An urgent question in the Commons about Darroch’s departure, which followed the leak of diplomatic cables critical of the Donald Trump White House, saw repeated condemnation of Johnson, and only one Conservative MP come to his defence.
The criticism of Johnson was based on his choice of language in Tuesday night’s Conservative leadership debate, in which he refused to give Darroch his support, even as his leadership rival, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would expect the ambassador to stay in post until his planned retirement.
In a shock move which prompted the senior civil servant at the Foreign Office to call an all-staff meeting to reassure “shaken” diplomats, Darroch announced on Wednesday morning that he could no longer continue in his role following the leak. [Continue reading…]
The row over Darroch comes at a crucial moment for Britain, which is due to leave the EU on October 31. For Johnson’s premiership to be deemed a success, he must not only take Britain out of the bloc, but also secure a trade deal with the U.S. soon afterward.
To do so requires massaging Trump’s ego, and this is where the chasm between the leading pro-Brexit politicians and the voting public becomes clear.
The 2016 Leave campaign painted the EU as a foreign power intent on dominating Britain. (Johnson himself once compared the EU’s aims to those of Hitler, while Hunt has since compared the bloc to the Soviets.) Like many Brexiteers, Johnson sees the U.S. more positively: as a buccaneering beacon of free markets compared with rules-obsessed Europe. But it might be hard to convince Leave voters to see it the same way. Britons have long bristled at the notion that their country is the junior partner in the “special relationship,” so why should a group that has been primed to see international alliances as humiliating now unquestioningly accept Britain’s subservient role?
Jingoism is also a potent force among Remainers when translated as standing up to American bullying. Their cultural touchstone is a scene from 2003’s Love Actually, where Hugh Grant’s prime minister stands up to the U.S. president, who has groped his love interest. “I fear that this has become a bad relationship,” he says. “We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too … Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot, David Beckham’s left foot.”
To complicate things further, Trump is also personally unpopular in Britain. Only 21 percent of Britons have a positive opinion of the U.S. president, according to YouGov, while 67 percent have a negative one. (By comparison, 72 percent have a positive opinion of his predecessor, Barack Obama.) [Continue reading…]
The United States experienced its own high-profile incident of sensitive cables becoming public with the 2010 WikiLeaks release of hundreds of thousands of State Department messages. At the time, Americans appeared just as capable as their British counterparts of sharing flowery assessments of their host countries.
A 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, discussing who was really in charge in Russia — then-President Dmitry Medvedev or his predecessor, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — called Medvedev “Robin to Putin’s Batman,” despite the fact that Medvedev was officially the senior partner.
While Medvedev was “afraid, hesitant,” another cable said, Putin was “an alpha dog.”
In Paris, the U.S. Embassy called then-President Nicolas Sarkozy “a naked emperor” and noted his “thin-skinned and authoritarian style.”
U.S. officials at the time largely dismissed the possibility of diplomatic fallout over such descriptions. [Continue reading…]