Boris Johnson’s ‘good relationship’ with the US president will be over the second Trump finds out what he said about him
The ambassadorial resignation row is now a full-blown proxy war
It’s day five of the British ambassador to Washington leak scandal now, and it’s almost liberating that its evolution into a full-scale Boris Johnson-related proxy war is now complete.
Politicians, as a general rule, don’t have actual, real opinions. What they have are positions, angles to work, through which they seek to secure their territory, and force their opponent into places they don’t want to be.
And so, at the despatch box of the House of Commons, Sir Kim Darroch, inevitably, played second fiddle on his own solo, beneath the cacophonic din that Johnson never fails to generate.
He wasn’t there, of course. But that doesn’t matter. Sir Alan Duncan had been called to the despatch box to face questions about Sir Kim’s resignation (whenever the Foreign Office is involved, there are a lot of Sirs in play. The bloke on the door in King Charles Street was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in last year’s honours list, for “service to temporary lanyards”).
Sir Alan loathes Johnson, that is very much a matter of public record. Within seconds of Darroch’s resignation on Wednesday, lunchtime “colleagues” of the ex-ambassador were putting it about that Darroch had made his decision “while watching the ITV debate” on Tuesday night, and specifically, the bit where Johnson refused to stand up for him.
That Duncan and Darroch are colleagues is doubtless just one of those things. One by one, Labour members and the SNP took it in turns to lay into Johnson. On each occasion, Duncan declined to comment specifically on the matter. He had, he said, “made his views known yesterday”.
That was when he appeared on various news channels to respond to comments made by “colleagues” of Darroch, about Johnson, colleagues with views remarkably similar to his own.
Labour’s Pat McFadden was there to say what Johnson had done had been “an appalling abandonment of someone in the firing line”.
Liz McInnes, also Labour, told him Theresa May should be appointing a new ambassador straight away, “so that we still have at least one UK representative willing to speak truth to power in Washington”.
Err, you what? It shouldn’t have to be made too clear that a diplomat’s job is not to “speak truth to power”. And certainly, what a diplomat writes and sends home in his highly confidential briefing notes is certainly not speaking truth to power. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s speaking truth about power, safe in the knowledge that the power is never meant to find out about it. A diplomat’s job, if it is anything, and especially in Trump’s America, is to make damn sure it never speaks truth to power.
None of these attempted blows will land with even a feather’s weight upon the soon-to-be next prime minister. He still thinks that he was right not to stick up for Darroch when Jeremy Hunt challenged him to. He, or so he says, has a “good relationship with the White House”.
Which may or may not be true. But there will come a time, probably at some point this year, when Johnson is standing at a podium next to Donald Trump, and somebody from the media will read out what Johnson said about him, to a TV news crew in 2015. That was when he called him “stupefyingly ignorant” and “unfit to hold the office of president”.
Trump has already been allowed to choose his own UK ambassador. At that moment, we’ll get to see whether he’s also allowed to choose his own UK prime minister. Because from that stunningly inevitable moment on, it will no longer be Boris Johnson.