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British Lawmakers Dismayed After Ambassador to US Quits

By Jamie Dettmer July 10, 2019

Kim Darroch's decision to quit as Britain's ambassador to the U.S. dismayed British lawmakers across the political spectrum, with many saying that they felt the Trump administration had bullied him out of the embassy.

"What does sovereignty mean if you can't even choose who represents you?" asked Conservative Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the House of Commons' foreign affairs committee. "I am deeply disappointed by this."

Darroch, who has faced withering criticism from President Trump following the leak of confidential cables casting the U.S. president in a bad light, said Wednesday he was resigning because "the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role."

According to Tugendhat: "It appears that the British envoy has been removed because of the wishes of a foreign potentate."

Earlier in the House of Commons, outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her dismay that Darroch had resigned, saying, it is a "matter of great regret." She said that "good government" relies on civil servants giving "full and frank advice."

The ambassador was branded a "very stupid guy" by Trump after cables Darroch had written to the Foreign Office were leaked to the press in which he dubbed the Trump administration "clumsy and inept."

The Foreign Office praised the envoy's "professionalism and class" Wednesday.

Simon McDonald, the head of Britain's diplomatic corp and Darroch's boss, told the Commons foreign affairs committee he deeply regretted the resignation. He told the panel that the ambassador had "decided that he should go because he did not think he would be able to do the work as British ambassador" and because of the impact on the embassy and his family.

McDonald said the whole affair had been "unprecedented." He added: "The United States is our closest ally… and I would add that we have a close relationship with the president of the United States." He pointed to last month's state visit to Britain by Donald Trump, which had been a success. The Darroch clash is "at variance with that success," he added.

The British ambassador said he wanted to put an end to speculation about his future. In a letter to the Foreign Office, Darroch said: "Since the leak of official documents from this Embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador. I want to put an end to that speculation."

According to British officials speaking privately, Darroch decided himself he needed to go after watching a television debate Tuesday night between the candidates vying to replace the outgoing May as Conservative party leader and prime minister. The candidates, frontrunner Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the current British foreign secretary, clashed over Darroch.

Hunt firmly backed Darroch and said if he won the leadership race he would keep Darroch on until his term as envoy expires at the end of the year. "Who chooses our ambassadors is a matter for the United Kingdom government and the United Kingdom prime minister, and I have made it clear if I am our next prime minister, the ambassador in Washington stays because it is our decision," Hunt said.

But Johnson, a friend of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, sidestepped the question about whether he would keep Darroch on. Officials say Darroch concluded that Johnson would not back him and would likely fire him once he entered Downing Street.

British officials say that the decision about who replaces Darroch will be left by May for her successor. A lawmaker backing Johnson to succeed May told VOA that Johnson would not choose Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party and a firm favorite of Donald Trump. Farage himself has ruled himself out, saying he is "not a diplomat."

Hunt tweeted on the news of Darroch's resignation: "Sir Kim served Britain with distinction for 42 yrs and whenever I visited Washington as Foreign Secretary, I was struck by his professionalism and intellect. Profoundly regret how outrageous leak caused this. Sir Kim deserves to look on his career with satisfaction & pride."

A backlash was building among Conservative lawmakers against Johnson for failing to back Darroch publicly. "It is unedifying to see someone who wants to be prime minister failing to stand up for hardworking civil servants who have done nothing wrong and are under attack from foreign governments," said Conservative lawmaker Patrick McLoughin.

British Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan accused Johnson of throwing Darroch "under the bus" by not publicly supporting him. He said there was deep anger in parliament at the ruin of the ambassador.

The resignation has also prompted concern among other British diplomats – as well as diplomats from other countries. They say the affair raises worrying questions about the role of envoys and whether a host country can veto them. Others say it will have a chilling effect on what ambassadors feel they can say to their political masters, in case their assessments are leaked.

Privately, some British officials said Darroch had no choice but to quit, regardless of Johnson. "He couldn't do his job anymore – and there is some relief mixed in with anger that he has decided to go. The embassy would have become a zombie one if he had stayed," an official told VOA.

"It is bad for British diplomacy, and a bad day for Anglo-American relations," said Christopher Meyer, a former UK envoy to Washington.

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