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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 1:35 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 1:35 pm, 25th July 2019

My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lady Quin for bringing this Motion to the House. I shall focus on what the leak means for relations between Ministers, officials and special advisers. For 15 years of my life I worked closely in that capacity with officials, eight of which were spent working with the Foreign Office and its diplomats. I have spent many hours enjoyably and informatively reading diplomatic telegrams—it was one of the delights of being an insider.

I have great concern about what this episode means for the relationship between politicians, officials and diplomats. It seems to me that the new Government are going to test this relationship to the limits. In politics, you always get leaks where there are disagreements and people want to put forward their own point of view, to position themselves more favourably vis-à-vis someone else. We have always had Cabinets which are, essentially, a team of rivals. It seems that the new Cabinet is a team of sycophants and to be a member of it you have to have the essential quality of faith, as the old evangelical preachers wanted you to have: if only you had faith and you believed something strongly enough, then you could make it true. That is the sycophancy that is at the heart of our new Prime Minister. How is that going to work with officials? I think it will work very badly and that is why the Darroch leak is so serious. I pay my own tribute to Sir Kim, with whom I worked closely over many years.

It seems plausible that the leak occurred as a result of an intervention, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, with a political, Brexiteer purpose in mind. Sir Kim’s offence in their eyes was that he provided honest analysis of the confusions and contradictions at the heart of the Trump Administration, with whom the Brexiteers want to establish a close relationship while ditching our relationship with Europe. The essence of civil servants is that they must be able, in confidence, to speak truth to power. My fear is that the Johnson Government will not want to be told that their prejudices are wrong; they have no real time for the facts and all that matters to them is the power of the will. This House could play a considerable role in the next few months in trying to launch an inquiry into the relationships between the Civil Service and Ministers. As constitutional guardians, that would be an appropriate role for us, as well as trying to hold the new Government to account. We need to ensure that one of the things that we very much value about this country—the principle that civil servants and diplomats are prepared to give, in confidence, their honest advice—is maintained.