This past week has been one of learning for some and confirmation for others. We have learned that the candidate in the Conservative leadership contest who is most likely to become the UKs next Prime Minister is unwilling to defend the nations civil servants and interests against attacks from foreign heads of state. For many this doesn’t come as too much of a shock. Boris Johnson’s career as Foreign Secretary provided ample evidence that he wasn’t capable (whether through temperment or lack of ability) to protect and further UK interests abroad. However what may have surprised some is the willingness of many Brexiteers, the self proclaimed defenders of Britain’s democracy and sovereignty, to endorse President Trump’s attacks on Sir Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador to the US.
Through a mixture of ignorance of the profession, open admiration for Trump and a desire to purify our national institutions the Brexiteers have bayed for Darroch’s blood like a pack of wolves that have cornered their prey. You see Sir Kim’s real offence, that which he cannot be forgiven for, is not that his diplomatic cables were leaked (in which he played no part) or that he told uncomfortable truths about the leader of our ‘closest ally’ (that is his duty after all), the unforgivable crime that Sir Kim has committed is that he is pro-EU.
The role of a diplomat is to not only represent the interests of Her Majesty’s government but to be the eyes and ears for our decision-makers. They must cultivate relationships with those closest to the administration and the head of state. All information must be assessed and analysed based off of the information that the ambassador recieves not just from their own sources but also from what the media is reporting. The role of the diplomat is multi-faceted and crucial for the development of a nation’s foreign policy towards the country in which their mission is based. If an ambassador cannot feel certain that their cables are secure, that they have the full support of their government and that their cables won’t be discarded if they don’t match the political tone of the current party in power then this will have an adverse affect on their ability to carry out their task and therefore on the pursuit of the nations interests. Those that rejoiced at Sir Kim’s resignation and have called for a more malleable ambassador to be sent in his place are not only supporting a measure that will severely weaken the UK abroad, they are actively pushing for change that could destabilise the UK domestically.
We have seen the progression towards this state of affairs since the EU referendum. First they came for the judges who they branded enemies of the people, then they came for the civil servants and now they are coming for our global representatives. As far as I am aware it wasn’t until this week that they started to call for the purge of those within our institutions who aren’t ideologically pure, those who don’t ‘believe in Brexit’. Those who claim to care the most about this nation (far more than those perfidious Remoaners at least) are the very same people who now wish to undermine the non-partisan institutions that uphold our liberal democracy. We have seen this occur in nations controlled by a political party, one in which ideological purity takes precedence, both the Nazi and Communist parties purged their institutions of those that they believed to be working against the party, who were ideologically dangerous, and I think we all know the fate that awaited them.
The fact that Johnson refused to come to Sir Kim’s defence is all the more concerning when you consider that Johnson is attempting to win back Conservative support from the Brexit Party. While Johnson hasn’t called for the purge of the impure, we know from past experience with Johnson that he will endorse whatever position he believes best for his own career prospects. Now I will try and be fair to Johnson because the UK does indeed need to maintain a relationship with the US, and seeing as the ‘very stable genius’ in the White House has shown himself to be insecure on countless occassions, leaping to the defence of Sir Kim may be considered unwise given what we know of the US President. However as PM Johnson will need to master the ability of being firm in protecting the national interest without burning any bridges. The fact that Johnson either refused to, or was incapable of delivering a defence of Darroch while soothing tensions with the US suggests that Johnson’s premiership is going to be a difficult one. He will face more difficult tests of diplomacy and the fact that he fell at this first hurdle isn’t promising.
It is common knowledge that Johnson is an admirer of Sir Winston Churchill and from reading his hagiographical biography of Churchill The Churchill Factor you cannot help but think that Johnson percieves himself to be Churchill reincarnated. Johnson (subconsciously or not) seems to try and present similarities between his own character and Churchill, relying on stretching historical facts to their utmost in order to do so. If Johnson does indeed see himself as a modern Churchill then could it be that Johnson views the political landscape through his own Churchillian goggles? If so then that may explain why Johnson chose to put the ‘special relationship’ with the US ahead of supporting Sir Kim. Churchill emphasised the importance of close ties to the US and indeed Brexiteers have often used Churchill to define their own vision of Brexit and why the US is a closer ally than the EU. A trade deal with the US seems to be the last great hope for many of them who previously seemed so certain about the intervention of the German car industry in Brexit negotiations.
However this seems to rely on a version of history that has mainly been mythologized. While we have had close ties to the US since the Second World War, it has always been more of a relationship of convenience than that of a special connection between two culturally similar nations. When it became clear that US arms outstripped those of Britain and that this therefore gave the New World more influence over the course of the war, Roosevelt became more concerned with cultivating a relationship with Stalin than doting on Churchill as he had done during the early years of the war. Lend-Lease played a vital role in Britain’s survival throughout the war, however the Truman Administration put a stop to these shipments in September 1945 despite the knowledge that Britain was still heavily reliant on these shipments. Britain has not always been able to rely on US support for her foreign policy either. During the 1956 Suez Crisis the US made it very clear that if Britain didn’t pull her forces out of the conflict the US would flood the financial market with sterling bonds which would cripple Britain’s finances. Britain’s relationship with the US has always relied on the good will of the President and whether Britain’s interests are aligned with those of the US. The ‘America First’ mantra of the Trump administration suggests that our relationship with the US after we leave the EU will be no different, and in fact it will likely be worse.
Trump has shown that the nations he shows the most respect are those nations whose leader he considers ‘strong’. The actions of Johnson over the past week have been anything but. He has kowtowed to the concerns of Trump without making even a token defence of the UK ambassador, and the current demands on the UK by the US over China and Huawei will be a further test of future relations between the two countries. The US ambassador to the Court of St James will have certainly reported the reaction to Darrochgate amongst Britain’s political figures. Johnson’s weakness will have been noted and it will be exploited. The US administration is fully aware that the Brexiteers have almost burnt their last bridge with the EU and that they are heavily reliant on the US to save them from the catastrophe of a No Deal Brexit, both economically and politically. But the UK has faced a political defeat that will likely take years to recover from. Our allies in Europe will likely be concerned that Britain can no longer be considered a reliable partner in issues where US interests conflict with their own. If Johnson takes a similar stance over Huawei as he did with Darrochgate then Britain will be further diminshed. Johnson has decided to gamble with Britain’s political influence in order to achieve his objectives. However with many Brexiteers feeling angered by Johnson’s spinelessness this could be a catastrophic mistake that highlights the new PMs political shortsightedness. This week has shown us a glimpse of Britain’s future outside of the EU. It seems to be a future of political and economic diminishment, a world where Britain has apparently taken back control in order to hand it to President Trump.
Picture credit: www.dailydot.com
What are your thoughts? Has Britain’s prestige been damaged? Has Johnson made a mistake in his lack of action? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.