In the end, Donald Trump won — although what he won over Kim Darroch remains a mystery. The British ambassador resigned his post yesterday after the leak of his confidential briefing memos touched off a nasty personal feud with the president. An unhappy Theresa May offered her praise for Darroch and warned the House of Commons to stand up to Trump in the future:
After several days of intense criticism by President Trump, who called the British ambassador to Washington a “pompous fool” and said his administration would no longer work with him, Kim Darroch on Wednesday resigned his post. …
May said to Parliament on Wednesday that she told Darroch that it is a “matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position as ambassador in Washington.”
“Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude,” she said at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice,” she said, adding, “I hope the House will reflect on the importance of defending our values and principles, particularly when they are under pressure.”
Sky News carried the May address to Parliament live, but not before getting in some shots of their own. Rupert Murdoch’s former network in the UK sounds a lot less apologetic for Trump than his present one in the US. They’re hearing rumblings in the diplomatic corps that suggest Darroch’s resignation might fuel their anger further:
Even Boris Johnson might have sniffed a change in the wind. In a debate with Jeremy Hunt yesterday for their campaign to replace May, Johnson declined to defend Darroch or commit to keeping him in place:
Mr Johnson said: “He [Donald Trump] was dragged into a British political debate… I don’t think that’s the right thing to do… but let’s face it, our relationship with the US is of fantastic importance.”
He added that “he would not be so presumptuous” to guarantee the future of the ambassador – who is due to retire later this year – saying he alone will make the decision on who to hire for politically sensitive jobs should he win the contest.
However his rival Mr Hunt said he would “certainly” keep Sir Kim in the role during the head-to-head debate on ITV.
After the announcement of Darroch’s resignation, Johnson’s tune changed a bit. Johnson hailed him as a “superb diplomat,” and issued his regrets over Darroch’s resignation. Johnson also called for the leaker to be “eviscerated,” and added, “it is not right that advice to ministers that civil servants must be able to make in a spirit of freedom should be leaked.”
If that’s the case, why didn’t Johnson stand up for Darroch yesterday? That may end up being a fatal mistake for Johnson. As Allahpundit pointed out yesterday, the Brits already have some sensitivity about not being taken seriously as a senior partner by US administrations. To get a sense of just how deeply this runs in the British public psyche, recall this memorable scene from the popular British film Love Actually*, in which the chafing over the “special relationship” gets a melodramatic (and contrived) airing:
Tory MPs who are unhappy about Trump’s handling of Darroch may not be terribly inclined to replace May with someone seen as more supine in regard to the US president. Jeremy Hunt played the Hugh Grant role well yesterday, establishing his independence from Trump and defending British interests. Trump might have blown an opportunity to link arms with his closest political cognate in the UK, and all over a cable leak of personal observations that were never meant to be made public in the first place.
Add to that the particular moment when this diplomatic rupture is taking place. Trump wants Europe to follow his lead on re-isolating Iran after tearing up the execrable JCPOA, and the UK was his closest ally on that effort too. Now the UK has no ambassador in Washington at the same time as the PM’s office is up for grabs in London. It’s tough to figure out a worse time for indulging in righteous indignation over private comments.
One can hardly blame Darroch for wanting to get out of the way. In fact, it really couldn’t end any other way after Trump’s repeated public attacks. When diplomats get involved in personal rows with heads of state — even if through no fault of their own — it’s best to replace them and to calm matters. Few in the UK will forget how Trump went out of his way to make that a problem, however, and it’s more likely than ever that many if not most there would agree with Darroch’s private assessments of Trump after this.
* Note – Love Actually is a contrived mess of a movie anyway, a manipulative product rather than a film, and the Prime Minister part of the story is its worst offender. Great cast, but absolute dreck otherwise.