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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 1:44 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 1:44 pm, 25th July 2019

My Lords, I will follow my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem in asking about the malice with which this leak was clearly intended. It was clearly intended to undermine the position of our ambassador in Washington, and it did so very effectively. It therefore takes us to the question of the relationship between officials and Ministers. One has to look at people close to the new Administration who wanted to undermine someone who was seen as not entirely one of them.

The basis of central government in Britain is that Ministers decide and officials advise, and the officials provide expert advice based on the evidence as they understand it. That is what Kim Darroch was doing. I am concerned about the extent to which evidence is currently swept aside by a number of leading people in politics. Faith, optimism and the dismissal of evidence as the product of gloomsters and doomsters undermine democratic and good government, and public confidence in the quality of government, and take us away from the necessary hard detail of Parliamentary democracy. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that we need to come back to the question of the overall impartiality of the Civil Service and the importance of defending it, as it is now under attack, both from the right and the left.

I have some worries about the press, and I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken about its behaviour on this. We have a free press, but it has a degree of responsibility, and the question of what you publish—which pieces of evidence you get that you decide are in the public interest—is something that even the Daily Mail should consider on occasion.

I am also worried by what Tim Shipman said in the Sunday Times:

“There are lots of rumours that Farage is choreographing this”.

Farage was the first to demand that Kim Darroch should go. I noted a later report stating that when President Trump sent his congratulations to our new Prime Minister, Nigel Farage was with him. That begins to worry me quite a great deal, and it would worry me if I were a Conservative who wanted this Government to succeed. One is not entirely sure that one wants the “idiot right” to get at the Conservative Government from alongside them, with privileged access to the President of the United States. The test to come of who now replaces our ambassador is extremely important for those of us who want to have some confidence in there being a foreign policy of some sort for the new Government—no political appointee.

I note that Kim Darroch spoke in one of the leaks of the “diplomatic vandalism” of the Trump Administration. I fear a degree of diplomatic vandalism in this new Administration, particularly in their attitude to the European Union, and in the attitude of our new Prime Minister, who says that if the European Union is not sensible enough to accept what we are going to propose, it will be its fault and we will have to walk away. That is not the way in which anyone who wants to conduct successful diplomacy should be thinking.

In these circumstances, we wish to see, as far as possible, reasonable voices within the Foreign Office. I think that all of us within this Chamber recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is one of the reasonable voices in the Foreign Office, and we very much hope that we will see him in his current post, or better, as one of those who is trying to keep the thing on track in September.