The next Prime Minister will choose the new ambassador to the US, one of Boris Johnson’s closest allies has said, as his supporters put pressure on Theresa May not to make an appointment to the UK’s top diplomatic post.
Liz Truss said it would take “months” to replace Sir Kim Darroch amid continued fallout from his resignation.
Critics of Mr Johnson have blamed the Tory leadership frontrunner for effectively ending the ambassador’s 42-year diplomatic career after failing to back him in a bitter row with Donald Trump’s White House.
Leaked diplomatic cables in which Sir Kim called the Trump administration “inept” and “dysfunctional” brought a furious response from the White House, which said it would no longer work with the British ambassador, and a series of insulting tweets from the President
Less than 24 hours after Mr Johnson told a televised leadership debate on Tuesday that it would be “presumptuous” to say whether he would keep Sir Kim in post, his supporters briefed newspapers that it would be “odd” for Theresa May to name a replacement.
At a gathering of Westminster journalists, Ms Truss, who is tipped for a senior post in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet and who made an open pitch for the role of chancellor, said that as a patriot, she didn’t like foreign leaders “slagging off” the UK.
The twin roles you perform of speaking truth to power and standing up for British interests have never been more vitalJEREMY HUNT
But she added: “The Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office has been clear that this is a job that is going to take months rather than weeks to recruit for.
“It’s likely that the new ambassador will be selected and appointed by the new Prime Minister.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We haven’t got a timeline. Sir Kim only resigned yesterday and an appointment will be made in due course.”
She said Sir Simon McDonald, he Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, had been “talking about various approaches that can be taken to recruitment” and “the length of the process depends on the circumstances”.
Meanwhile, Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan has told MPs the inquiry into the leak of the diplomatic cables was focusing on whether “someone within the system” was responsible.
Sir Alan Duncan said there was no evidence the dispatches from Sir Kim had been obtained through computer hacking.
Downing Street said “initial discussions” had taken place with the police, who could become formally involved in the leak inquiry if there was evidence of “criminal activity”.
In the Commons, Sir Alan told MPs: “We do not, at the moment, have any evidence that this was a hack, so our focus is on finding someone within the system who has released illicitly these communications ... that is where the inquiry is primarily focused at the moment.”
Responding to condemnation from Sir Alan, who accused the leadership frontrunner of having thrown Sir Kim “under a bus”, and other MPs, Mr Johnson said he was “very surprised” at the suggestion he was responsible for the resignation.
“I can’t believe they’re trying to blame me for this,” Mr Johnson said.
“It seems bizarre to me. I’m a great supporter of Kim’s. I worked very well with him for years. I think that he’s done a superb job.”
In the Commons, shadow Foreign Office minister Liz McInnes urged the government to name a new ambassador urgently, “so we still have at least one UK representative willing to speak truth to power in Washington”.
Ms McInnes described the former foreign secretary as “the biggest villain of all” and claimed his comments in the leadership debate were “the most craven and despicable act of cowardice I have seen from any candidate for public office, let alone someone running to be prime minister”.
SNP foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Gethins said Mr Johnson was “unfit for office”.
Mr Johnson’s leadership rival and his successor as foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, today issued a message of support to diplomatic staff.
“The twin roles you perform of speaking truth to power and standing up for British interests have never been more vital,” Mr Hunt said.
He added: “Sir Kim Darroch embodied this trait and all of us are deeply proud of the distinguished service he gave us over many years, so please keep speaking up without fear or favour.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Wednesday, Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice said the new ambassador must be a “pro-Brexit businessman”.