The UK could pay a high price if it replaces Kim Darroch with an ambassador to the US who supports Donald Trump. Divided loyalties will not serve Britain well in the cut-and-thrust of post-Brexit trade deal negotiations.
At a press conference in Downing Street, Theresa May revealed that she had drawn a blank in the search for a new ambassador to the US. “We did not want a repeat of the unfortunate Kim Darroch incident, so we made the first question on the job application, ‘Do you think Donald Trump is a moron?’ So far, none of the applicants has checked the ‘no’ box,” she said.
Like all good satire, there’s a ring of truth about the idea – imagined by The New Yorker’s ‘Borowitz Report’ – that any sensible civil servant is likely to share the same views about the Trump administration that led to Darroch’s resignation (“inept”, “dysfunctional”, “faction-riven” etc).
So, there’s a certain logic to the suggestion that the next ambassador should be someone more in tune with Trump’s way of thinking. Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice has suggested it should be a “pro-Brexit businessman”.
Others, including Trump himself, have recommended the Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage for the job. Or what about former Apprentice contender Katie Hopkins, the self-styled ‘Female Farage’, whose tweet about how good it was to be alive to see “Trump in the White House, Boris in Number 10” and a slew of other right to far-right wingers in power around the world was shared by the US President himself?
If this means the end of the traditional political neutrality of the civil service, does that really matter? If post-Brexit Britain is to cut a trade deal with Trump, wouldn’t it be better to have one of his own as our man in Washington?
The answer to this question is undoubtedly a most firm “no, absolutely not”. Could the UK Government trust someone close to Trump to pursue the British national interest and not his?
Even if they could, there would be a risk that a Trump fan would let slip advantageous information, either deliberately or inadvertently. And Trump has a habit of falling out even with those of like minds, as the number of people who have quit his “faction-riven” Administration demonstrates.
There is a certain element of poker in negotiating trade deals – what will the other side accept, how far are they willing to push a particular point and so on. And a poker face is something the best civil servants do extremely well.
When appointing a new ambassador to Washington, the UK should not choose a political ally of Trump, but a highly intelligent, skilled diplomat. And yes, that would be someone almost exactly like Kim Darroch.