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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 1:28 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour 1:28 pm, 25th July 2019

My Lords, Sir Kim Darroch is a great public servant. All noble Lords who have had the privilege of dealing with him as ambassador to Washington, and before that at UKREP, would support that view. UKREP is at the cutting edge of the practical application of government policy. As a Minister, I dealt with him frequently when he was head of UKREP; I would not have been nearly as effective in my post without him. We pay unreserved tribute to him. His reputation has not been damaged in any way by what happened. He was doing his job to the best of his ability. An ambassador who did not send back cables of the kind Sir Kim sent would not have been doing their job, and that is the end of the matter.

On the impact of the leak, I slightly part company with my noble friend in her forensic opening speech. I do not think it has done any damage to relations between Britain and the United States. There is nothing in those telegrams that would surprise anybody on either side of the Atlantic. It is no different from the commentary that can be read in the papers.

I severely deprecate any application of the Official Secrets Act to the leak. The leak was, I fear, a very good scoop in journalistic terms. How the leak came to be furnished to the Sunday Times is a matter of acute public interest, but I do not for a moment support any view that the Sunday Times should not have published it. I do not see a national interest in suppressing the views of diplomats on President Trump or, indeed, the views of American diplomats on Mrs May. It became an issue because President Trump chose to politicise the leak. What should have happened, and would have happened had we been dealing with a normal American Administration, is that the President of the United States would have made a joke about the leak, something like, “Goodness, you should hear what our ambassador says about your Prime Minister”. That would have been the end of the matter and Sir Kim would have continued in post. In fact, as it happens, he was due to leave the United States in a few months anyway. The reason it became a diplomatic fracas was because of the way the President of the United States chose to mobilise the leak for a political agenda.

The political agenda was clearly to destabilise Her Majesty’s Government. Let us be very clear what is going on. This is all part of a Brexit strategy, which I am afraid includes the Trumpian part of the United States, President Putin and others in this international nexus, who have leapt on Brexit as a means of destabilising our politics and our policy. We should be cognisant of the fact that the people who are propagating this Brexit policy internationally and mobilising leaks, which may include the secret services of Russia playing some part—we do not know where the inquiry is going to go but I would not be at all surprised if it ended up there—are part of a serious destabilisation strategy. The fact that the leak reached the Sunday Times through the Brexit Party—it is laughable, a 19 year-old journalist claiming to have senior contacts in the Civil Service; that is clearly not the case—which is an established route, we now know, for information and destabilisation from Russia, is a matter for concern.

To touch on the wider issues, the bigger issue underlining this is not the position of Sir Kim Darroch, whose reputation is secure, or the standing of our Diplomatic Service; it is the fact that the Government are conducting a policy—Brexit—that has so little confidence among the diplomatic community and in the Civil Service. The undermining and weakening of the Civil Service, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to, including the parachuting in of an unprecedented number of special advisers to essentially take over No. 10, and the resignation of the Principal Private Secretary, which is unprecedented in the transition between Prime Ministers, is because of the fundamental unviability of the Brexit policy. That is what underlies this leak. It is the big cancer at the heart of British government and it will not be solved by a leak inquiry. It needs a fundamental change of policy on the part of Her Majesty’s Government.