British ambassador to U.S. resigns after calling Trump administration 'inept'
By Quint Forgey
Daniel Lippman and Emilio Casalicchio contributed to this report.
Great Britain’s ambassador to the United States will resign, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced Wednesday, in the wake of leaked internal memos in which Sir Kim Darroch called the Trump administration “dysfunctional” and “inept.”
“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,” Darroch said in a letter to the Foreign Office. “I want to put an end to that speculation. The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.”
Though Darroch noted that his commission is not set to expire “until the end of this year,” he said he believes that “in the current circumstances the responsible course is to allow the appointment of a new ambassador” to Washington.
British tabloid The Daily Mail first reported Sunday the contents of the confidential cables to London, which dated back to 2017 and offered a bleak assessment of President Donald Trump and his White House.
“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,” Darroch wrote in one of the documents, according to the Mail.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on Darroch's resignation. Trump has blasted the envoy and Prime Minister Theresa May in a series of tweets over recent days, threatening on Monday that his administration “will no longer deal with” Darroch.
In his resignation letter Wednesday, Darroch praised the “professionalism and integrity” of the British civil service as “the envy of the world,” and expressed confidence that “its values remain in safe hands” upon his imminent departure.
“I am grateful to all those in the UK and the US, who have offered their support during this difficult few days,” Darroch said. “This has brought home to me the depth of friendship and close ties between our two countries. I have been deeply touched.”
Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accepted “with deep personal regret” Darroch’s offer to step down, replying in a letter Wednesday that the ambassador “loyally served the government of the day without fear or favour” and represented “the best of us.”
McDonald said that “over the last few difficult days,” Darroch “behaved as you have always behaved over a long and distinguished career, with dignity, professionalism and class.”
McDonald went on to describe Darroch as “the target of a malicious leak” who was “simply doing your job,” adding: “I understand your wish to relieve the pressure on your family and your colleagues at the Embassy; I admire the fact that you think more of others than yourself. You demonstrate the essence of the values of British public service.”
McDonald also emphasized that May, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the “whole of the public service have stood with you” since the publication of the Mail’s report.
May on Wednesday said she had spoken to Darroch earlier that morning, telling him that “it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary” to resign and that he enjoyed the support of her full Cabinet. The British people owe Darroch “an enormous debt of gratitude” for his “lifetime of service to the United Kingdom,” May continued.
“Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice,” May said. “I want all our public servants to have the confidence to be able to do that and I hope the House will reflect on the importance of defending our values and principles, particularly when they are under pressure."
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and May’s chief political rival, said Wednesday that he also regrets Darroch’s resignation, adding: "I think the comments made about him were beyond unfair and wrong."
British lawmaker Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary and London mayor who is the front-runner to succeed May as Conservative Party leader and become prime minister later this month, said Wednesday that whoever leaked Darroch's diplomatic telegrams "really has done a grave disservice to our civil servants" and should be appropriately punished.
"I hope that whoever it is, is run down, caught and eviscerated, quite frankly, because it is not right that advice to ministers that civil servants must be able to make in a spirit of freedom should be leaked," Johnson said. "It is not right that civil servants’ careers and prospects should be dragged into the political agenda."
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a friend of Darroch who often attended his parties at his residence next to the British Embassy, told POLITICO Wednesday that the ambassador "was damn good at his job" and said it was "a shame" that he resigned.
"He worked Congress and the administration but also understood relationships and the importance of having a gathering place where people actually got to know each other," the Michigan Democrat said.
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday that Darroch's "ability to be effective was probably limited" following the events of the past few days, calling his resignation "probably the right course."
Speaking ahead of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday on the administration’s use of emergency powers to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, Sen. Tim Kaine lamented Darroch's resignation as the latest casualty of Trump's embrace of strongmen and spurning of traditional American allies.
"Why does this president feel like he's got to be the guy carrying the briefcase for the Saudi royal family?" the Virginia Democrat told MSNBC. "You compare it with what's going on right now, this president, we're fighting with the U.K. The U.K. ambassador has just resigned. What this president does is he fights with our allies, and he cozies up to dictators all around the world."
Brett Bruen, a former diplomat who served as the White House director of global engagement under the Obama administration, warned Wednesday that Darroch's exit sets a dangerous precedent for other ambassadors and foreign affairs officials, and tweeted that May should refuse his resignation.
"This sends a concerning & chilling message to diplomats around the globe: if your doing your job gets you into hot water, we will cut you loose. Imagine if the US had to remove every ambassador after Wikileaks published our cables," Bruen wrote online.
"It also puts American diplomats a risk," he continued. "I worked in countries where the leaders didn’t like what we said about human rights & democracy. Trump has now given them the precedence for publicly insulting & punishing ambassadors for what they say about how they govern, even privately."
Richard N. Haass, another ex-diplomat who serves as the president of the non-profit Council on Foreign Relations think tank, tweeted Wednesday "it is important to reiterate" that Darroch "did nothing wrong" in his capacity as ambassador.
"He acted professionally throughout, including resigning as it became clear he could no longer be effective in Trump’s Washington," Haass wrote online. "The person who did wrong was whoever leaked the cable."
May’s spokesman said Monday that Downing Street had contacted the Trump administration, “setting out our view that we believe the leak is unacceptable” and calling the episode “a matter of regret,” Reuters reported.
But Trump has leveled various insults at Darroch and May since the weekend, telling reporters in New Jersey on Sunday that Darroch “has not served the U.K. well” and that administration officials are “not big fans of that man.”
Donald J. Trump 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... 1:48 PM - Jul 9, 2019
“I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him,” Trump wrote online Monday, adding that May's departure as prime minister is "good news for the wonderful United Kingdom."
Trump resumed the feud Tuesday, tweeting that Darroch is "a very stupid guy" and "a pompous fool," and trashed May's handling of the Brexit political crisis.
“I told @theresa_may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!” Trump wrote online.
Those posts by the president provoked an uncharacteristic rebuke from Hunt, the foreign secretary who is competing with Johnson to replace May as prime minister.
"@realDonaldTrump friends speak frankly so I will: these comments are disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country. Your diplomats give their private opinions to @SecPompeo and so do ours!" Hunt tweeted.
"You said the UK/US alliance was the greatest in history and I agree ... but allies need to treat each other with respect as @theresa_may has always done with you," Hunt continued. "Ambassadors are appointed by the UK government and if I become PM our Ambassador stays."
On Wednesday, Hunt tweeted that he was "deeply saddened to hear of" Darroch's resignation.
"Standing up for Britain means standing up for the finest diplomats on the world. It should never have come to this," Hunt wrote online, adding: "Profoundly regret how outrageous leak caused this. Sir Kim deserves to look on his career with satisfaction & pride."
Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the U.S., also offered a message of support for Darroch on Wednesday, tweeting: "An utter outrage that Kim Darroch has been brought down by a disgraceful leak and the vindictive reaction of the US President. Sir Kim is blameless in this sorry affair."