Trump disinvites British ambassador from White House dinner and calls Theresa May ‘foolish’
|National Post 09 Jul 2019 at 19:29|
LONDON — The special relationship between the United States and Britain descended into name-calling on Tuesday, with President Trump tweeting that the British ambassador is “wacky” and “a very stupid guy” and “a pompous fool.”
In a trio of posts, Trump went on to insult outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May for her “failed Brexit negotiation.” Trump boasted that he told May how to do the deal, “but she went her own foolish way — was unable to get it done. A disaster!”
The president’s tirade gave a third day of life to controversy over leaked diplomatic cables in which British Ambassador Kim Darroch described the Trump White House as “inept,” “dysfunctional” and “unpredictable.”
The leak was a highly embarrassing breach, not only for Darroch and May, but the British Foreign Office. In a stroke, the cables appeared to undercut recent efforts to form closer ties with Trump, who was feted by Queen Elizabeth II and had tea with Prince Charles during an official state visit last month.
In London, Trump took pains to compliment May for having done a “very good job” in the Brexit negotiations, adding, “she’s probably a better negotiator than I am.” (Though he also said he would have sued the European Union over Brexit.)
On Monday, Trump vowed that the United States would “no longer deal with” Darroch. The White House disinvited the British ambassador from a Monday dinner with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the emir of Qatar.
On Tuesday, the president complained that Darroch was “foisted upon the United States” and “is not someone we are thrilled with.”
Traditionally, countries choose their own ambassadors to send abroad.
The British Embassy declined to comment.
The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy. He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was…
A statement from May’s office Monday said the leaks “do not reflect the closeness of, and the esteem in which we hold, the relationship.”
The statement said Darroch retains the prime minister’s “full support,” and a spokesman stressed that May did not share in her ambassador’s critiques.
Nick Boles, an independent lawmaker in Parliament, said, “The President has been grossly offensive to Her Majesty’s Government. Anyone who wants to be Prime Minister must stand up to bullying, whatever the source.”
But May is on her way out — shoved from power by her own party for her failure to deliver Brexit. And so there was speculation in British political circles about whether the leak might have been designed to push the Europhile Darroch out of Washington before his term is up in 2020, to be replaced by someone more to Trump’s liking when a new prime minister forms a new government later this month.
Trump’s string of tweets have sparked a backlash in Britain by those who say that the U.S. president has no business deciding who is – or isn’t – the British ambassador in Washington.
William Hague, the former foreign secretary, told the BBC: “You can’t change an ambassador at the demand of a host country. It is their job to give an honest assessment of what is happening in that country.”
Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington, told the broadcaster that British ambassadors around the world will be looking at the controversy and may conclude that they should change practices.
“If they have something very sensitive to send back, they might not send it back, which is a very dangerous thing, or they might conclude better if I hop on a plane fly back to London,” Meyer said.
He said that Darroch hadn’t done “a single thing wrong” and that even if he is frozen out by the Trump administration, “he has an extremely capable staff who can hold the fort for a few months.”
This is such a damaging, potentially damaging, event, that I hope the full force of our internal discipline, or even the law, will come down on whoever actually carried out this particular act
The U.K. “should certainly not kowtow to the American president,” Meyer said.
Farage is a polarizing radio show personality and prominent pro-Brexit politician.
Since coming into office, Trump officials have had a generally cordial relationship with the British diplomatic corps in Washington.
Senior Trump officials regularly party at the embassy, and a coterie – including Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, Mick Mulvaney, Sarah Sanders and Trump ally Chris Ruddy – have all been guests for private dinners, where they share about the president and his decision-making. Matt Whitaker, as acting attorney general, was seen dancing there after midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Darroch himself frequently meets with national security adviser John Bolton and had early-morning breakfast meetings with John Kelly, then the former chief of staff, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity. He has been key in working with Trump’s aides behind the scenes to arrange visits to Britain in a way that would avoid angering the president, White House and embassy officials say.
Although Trump said he does not know Darroch, he has spoken with him several times during visits overseas and in bilateral meetings. The president also quizzed the ambassador about Brexit during a lunch at the Capitol this spring.
Trump was told about the leaked cables this weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, aides said, and complained about how they were dominating TV.
In this file photo taken on June 4, 2019 Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump make their way to the Foreign and Commonwealth office for a press conference in London, on the second day of their three-day State Visit to the U.K. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
Diplomats trashing their hosts is hardly unusual – as was evident in the 2010 release of tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.
“His comments are entirely unsurprising from a historical perspective,” Calder Walton, a British lawyer and a fellow at Harvard University, wrote in an email. “Ambassadors rely on being able to give frank (often undiplomatic) opinions about their resident countries.”
A person familiar with the cables said they are often more anodyne — they come from interviews with White House officials, lobbyists, journalists and others and are an attempt to decipher what is happening in Washington for officials in London.
Darroch himself does not write all of the cables but signs off on them before they go back to Britain, according to people familiar with the matter.
Excerpts of the correspondence were published in a report by the Mail on Sunday tabloid. On Sunday, British officials confirmed the authenticity of the cables.
Britain’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, said he would issue an apology to Ivanka Trump when the two met in Washington on Monday. (Why the British minister, whose job is to negotiate a new free-trade deal with the United States, was meeting with the president’s daughter and special adviser was not revealed.)
Fox stressed that he was outraged, not at Darroch, but at the unknown leaker, whom he called an “unpatriotic” underminer of the relationship between the United States and Britain.
Fox said he suspected that the perpetrator was either a member of the civil service or the “political class” — which did not do much to narrow the number of possible sources.
“This is such a damaging, potentially damaging, event, that I hope the full force of our internal discipline, or even the law, will come down on whoever actually carried out this particular act,” Fox told the BBC.
The leak comes as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his predecessor in the position, Boris Johnson, campaign among 160,000 Conservative Party voters to be the next party leader and prime minister.
On Monday, Hunt announced an investigation into the leak – and stressed that he, too, did not share Darroch’s impression of the American president as “‘insecure” and “incompetent.”
In a 2017 memo, Darroch wrote: “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.”
Hunt couched that as “a personal view, and there will be many people in this building who don’t agree with that view, and indeed I don’t agree with some of the views that we saw in those letters.”
“I think the U.S. administration is highly effective,” Hunt said, “and we have the warmest of relationships and a partnership based on standing up for shared values.”
At the same time, Hunt sought to ward off a freeze on diplomatic correspondence.
“So I think it’s very important that our ambassadors and high commissioners around the world continue to feel that they are able to express those frank views,” Hunt said, praising the British Foreign Service as “one of the best diplomatic networks in the world.”
Jo Swinson, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, retweeted Trump’s missive with the comment, “Whether Johnson or Hunt take the keys to Number 10, both will continue to roll over and put up with President Trump’s tantrums.” Many commentators also observed that Darroch’s reportage was not that different from what could be read in almost any U.S. newspaper.
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