The perils of dealing with Donald Trump have been spelt out in technicolour to the wounded British Lion, who must be wondering why nobody gives her a break.
‘Dysfunctional, unpredictable, diplomatically clumsy and inept’ were some of the phrases the UK’s man in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, used to describe the Trump administration in memos he sent back to London.
That’s nothing that hasn’t already been said by a host of Washington insiders over the past 30 months. The problem with Darroch, a former UK ambassador to the EU, is not that he said what is self-evidently true but that these undiplomatic remarks found their way to the press.
A bizarre, diplomatic Mexican stand-off has now ensued.
Trump instantly declared Darroch persona non grata. The UK says they won’t be bullied into firing him, though trade minister Liam Fox was dispatched to Washington at the start of the week to apologise to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
In fact, what seems to upset this uniquely thin-skinned US President is that the Lion has, if not exactly roared, then certainly raised its paws in self-defence.
A spokesperson for Theresa May doubled down on Monday by insisting that Darroch would not be sacked, and adding that it was “hugely important that ambassadors are able to provide honest, unvarnished assessments of the politics in their country”.
That prompted Trump to respond as only he can: with a series of tweets describing May as “foolish”, and adding that “the wacky ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy.”
The timing of the leak of comments made in summer 2017 – just before a new prime minister, likely to be Boris Johnson, takes power – is very suspicious. So, too, is the fact that the leaks were sent to Isabel Oakeshott, a right-wing writer who is close to Nigel Farage and Arron Banks.
Whoever leaked Darroch’s remarks could hardly have done more damage to the UK civil service, which Farage & co spent the European election campaign denouncing as unpatriotic and institutionally anti-Brexit.
Brexiteers have set great store in the prospect of an ambitious or, to use Trump’s vernacular, ‘huge’ or ‘awesome’, transatlantic trade deal. Farage & co would like to see Darroch replaced with a Brexiteer business leader (or by Farage himself).
But Brexiteers should be careful what they wish for. The idea that the UK can expect a generous trade deal from a Trump administration is yet another unicorn. A protectionist like Trump has no interest in increasing US imports of UK goods and services.
Besides, bullies have to be faced down. It’s time for the lion to roar.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]