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United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United States: Leaked Messages - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:24 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 1:24 pm, 25th July 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for securing this debate. I am almost tempted to say that I agreed with so much of her speech that I could forgo my four minutes. However, I do slightly disagree with her on one point. She expressed concern at dragging the Minister to the House to answer questions this afternoon. During yesterday evening’s last business debate, it appeared that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, might have been acting Foreign Secretary. Most of us around the Chamber thought that this would be a very good thing. This debate is not only important but extremely timely. We have a new Foreign Secretary, but we do not yet have Ministers of State or more junior Ministers —nor, I assume, do we yet have a new ambassador to the United States. Therefore, it could not be more timely to raise the issues mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and to send some messages back to the Prime Minister.

I agreed with a couple of the Prime Minister’s points. The Government have finally made a commitment to the over 3 million EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom. That was a positive statement, made on the steps of No. 10 yesterday and in the House of Commons earlier today. However, we have heard no real commitment to foreign policy. When the leak happened, the response of Boris Johnson—then a candidate for the Conservative leadership—was strange. I would have assumed that, in the context of a leak, the person who is at fault is not the one who has been leaked but the one who has done the leaking. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, made clear, the Government suggested that they were conducting an inquiry into the leak. However, what we heard was real criticism not of the person who may have leaked but of Sir Kim Darroch. In his statement at the time, the then Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, pointed out that we pay ambassadors to be candid. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, pointed out that Sir Kim,

“reflects the best of our diplomatic capabilities, the best of diplomacy, and we stand by him”.—[Official Report, 8/7/19; col. 1685.]

The former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary did stand by Sir Kim Darroch. He is no longer in post because he realised that his position was untenable, in the light of the comments by the candidate for the Conservative Party leadership, and now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. So will the Minister confirm that the current Prime Minister and incoming Foreign Secretary believe that it is vital to support our Diplomatic Service; that cables, emails and other forms of communication sent from national capitals back to London should be confidential; and that leaking should not be endorsed in any way, unless there is a clear public interest? Do the Government understand the dangers of conflict of interest if there are too many links between the media and the political class, in particular between those who are reporting and those who are being reported? I trust that the current Prime Minister is no longer employed by the Daily Telegraph, but it would be useful to know.