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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 1:49 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 1:49 pm, 25th July 2019

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Quin for giving us a second bite of the cherry on this issue. We already had the opportunity to address it when we had the repeat of an Answer. I had the opportunity to cite Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who said it was essential that we all stand up for those who we send abroad. I repeat what I said then: it is deeply shameful that Boris Johnson was unable to do that, despite the six opportunities he had in the TV debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who is in her place, responded to the Urgent Question by saying that it was important that the process for replacing the ambassador was done in the usual way—by the Prime Minister on the Foreign Secretary’s recommendation, with the approval of Her Majesty. Obviously, so many changes may delay that, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say exactly when we can expect a replacement for that important post. Like many noble Lords, I think it is really important that the replacement is a professional diplomat, so that we can restore confidence in our Diplomatic Service. My noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Liddell are absolutely right to be concerned about the underlying issues here.

The last time we discussed this, I found it deeply distressing that a former permanent secretary in the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, had to ask the question: will the Prime Minister and his Government remain committed to the political independence and impartiality of the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service? The fact that that question had to be asked should concern us all.

What are the other impacts of this political leak? As noble Lords have said, including my noble friend, it was not a matter of security or even public interest; it was a political leak deliberately designed to cause damage. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is in his place, who said at the time as chair of our International Relations Committee:

“From now on, all ambassadorial communications will inevitably to some degree be self-censored to make sure that, in the event of a leak, the career of the ambassador concerned does not come to a rapid halt, and the Government will therefore no longer be in receipt of the uninhibited frank advice which is essential to good policy-making”.

I hope the noble Lord will confirm that there will not be that impact and that we will be able to restore confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, said:

“It is vital that the inquiry lifts the drains to find out who was responsible for this completely unacceptable conduct. It is also right that if the miscreant is identified and found, appropriate proceedings should follow”.—[Official Report, 11/7/19; col. 1889.]

Tell us then when the inquiry will be completed. How quickly will we see the result? Are we certain it will be conducted in the way that we hoped it would be under the previous Government? We are all concerned about the impact this will have on future relationships.

I hope that we will not have any further leaks. We read in the Sunday Times in the early days of the investigation that unnamed government sources said that a suspect had been identified. Is the Minister concerned that we have ongoing leaks, clearly designed to cause political damage? We all want answers soon. I hope that the Minister will be able to give them to us.