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House of Lords Hansard
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UK’s Ambassador to the USA: Resignation
11 July 2019
Volume 798

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer, given in the other place this morning by my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan, to an Urgent Question with reference to the United Kingdom’s ambassador in the United States:

“Mr Speaker, it was with deep regret that yesterday the Government accepted the resignation of Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch.

Over a distinguished 42-year career, Sir Kim served his country with the utmost dedication and distinction. He brought dispassionate insight and directness to his role. It is an outrage that a selection of his very professional reports back to London should have been leaked.

Quite rightly, Sir Kim received the full support of the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet. In an act of selfless duty, Sir Kim made the decision to resign in order to relieve the pressure on his family and colleagues and to protect the United Kingdom-United States relationship.

The Government profoundly regret that this episode has led Sir Kim to decide to resign. The tributes that have been paid to him from across both Houses, and from so many other corners of this country and others, have been fitting and rightly deserved”.

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My Lords, I think we all share dismay at the circumstances that led to the resignation of Sir Kim, who resigned simply for doing his job. As Tom Tugendhat said in the other place this morning, it is absolutely essential that we all stand up for those we send abroad. It is deeply shameful that Boris Johnson was unable to do that, despite the six opportunities he had on Tuesday. Nevertheless, in the other place this morning Alan Duncan said we will appoint a new ambassador in the usual and proper way. I—and, I am sure, many in this House—believe that speed is of the essence to restore confidence in our Diplomatic Service. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm today that we will appoint in a proper, professional and speedy way a replacement who is a professional diplomat, so that we can restore confidence in our Diplomatic Service.

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The noble Lord’s last point is extremely important. It is absolutely vital that our Diplomatic Service be conducted with integrity, and Sir Kim was an exemplar of that. The noble Lord will be aware that there are procedures for the appointment of ambassadors. The next ambassador will be appointed in the usual way by the Prime Minister, on the Foreign Secretary’s recommendation and with the approval of Her Majesty the Queen.

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My Lords, I welcome the Statement from the noble Baroness. This situation is indeed very shocking. Can the Minister make crystal clear that no incoming Conservative or other Administration should ever sacrifice our diplomats when bullied by a host country? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Can the Minister assure us that as we face, as we just discussed, escalating tensions in the Middle East—worsened by US actions—we will move immediately to appoint a new ambassador in Washington who has the necessary deep and long experience as a diplomat? It can never be the case that our ambassador somehow has to sign up to the political position of a host country.

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Let me be crystal clear: it is for the United Kingdom to select our ambassador to any diplomatic appointment. There is a process for appointing a successor to Sir Kim Darroch, which will inevitably have to be worked out in some detail. That is currently happening. I am unable to give any more specific information at this time.

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My Lords, I worked with Kim Darroch for many years, in many different capacities, under many different Prime Ministers from Lady Thatcher onwards, and I have the very highest regard for his integrity and diplomatic skills. I regret his resignation; I am not in the least surprised that those who worked for him regret it as well. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done. Can the Minister give us an absolute assurance that this Government—I know she will have no difficulty doing so for this Government—and, as far as she is able, the next Prime Minister and the next Government, will remain committed to the political independence and impartiality of the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service?

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I thank the noble Lord, who speaks with a special experience of these matters. Democracy requires elected politicians and Governments, and Governments cannot operate without competent, professional and independent civil servants. That is axiomatic for any Government in any part of the world to operate effectively and well. I share the noble Lord’s sentiments that that independence and professionalism must be respected. He is correct in the tributes he pays, and I thank him for them; I am sure they are shared across the House. Any Government will understand the merit of observing the virtues of an independent, competent diplomatic service and would want to do everything to uphold them.

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My Lords, as the President of the United States added a few gratuitous and personal remarks about our Prime Minister, should we not stand back and tell him to go and relax and play a game of golf? His aides often reveal that his grumbles and irritations are short-lived, and he tends to forget after a day or two what is worrying him, or he has a new worry. In these circumstances, clever diplomacy might suggest that, if we wait a while, things will cool down and we could consider reappointing an excellent ambassador to the United States called Sir Kim Darroch.

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My noble friend speaks with great wisdom. I am not sure that I am qualified to be an adviser or a counsellor to the President of the United States of America. We have a long-standing and strong relationship with the United States that transcends Prime Ministers and Presidents. That relationship is fundamentally strong and important. It is manifest in various successful collaborations, co-ordinations and partnerships in which we have engaged. I am certain that the Governments of both the United Kingdom and the United States will want to do everything possible to sustain that important and strong relationship.

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My Lords, the Government should not have accepted Sir Kim’s resignation and if they had any moral fibre they would not have done so. 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. Does the Minister agree that this is a bad day for British diplomacy and a shameful day for the country?

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We have to be sensitive to the wishes of Sir Kim Darroch. We profoundly regret the position in which he was put—the position in which he found himself—but we have to respect his personal wishes in relation to that situation. There is no question of important and sensitive diplomatic communications being censored or moderated lest they might be intercepted and cause embarrassment. If we are not to have a diplomatic service which can be blunt, honest and frank with the Government so that they have the best possible information available before they make important decisions—either in relation to policy or in response to situations of conflict—then we have to question what the point is of a diplomatic service. That service has to be there, it has to be supported, it has to operate independently and we have to respect and dignify the incumbents who do such important work for us.

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My Lords, this is a sad episode but we should not rush to replace Sir Kim. A chargé d’affaires is perfectly capable of being in charge during the summer months. We need to concentrate on catching the culprit and on how we can keep classified documents confidential. We should reflect coolly and calmly on how to handle a relationship with the United States and President Trump. Does the Minister agree that, in the meantime, we should not let this episode become ensnared in British politics?

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I cannot comment further on the arrangements for the appointment of a successor; I have already indicated what they are. My noble friend asked a number of questions. 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.

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My Lords, with some regret I express my support for the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. There is a convention that when there is a prospect of a change of government, Governments do not take major decisions. There is a good reason for that, which is that the incoming Government should have full confidence in the person who is appointed. Is it not necessary that this convention should apply in this case?

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I cannot add to what I have already said. The process is laid down, and I have no further information on that.

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My Lords, is not Sir Kim the only person to end with any credit in this matter? The person who leaked the details, the President and the overweening ambition of Mr Boris Johnson are very happy reminders of just how noble the decision of Sir Kim Darroch has been.

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I think we are unanimous in our respect for and support of Sir Kim Darroch, but I return to the very wise point made by my noble friend Lord Howell: regardless of Prime Ministers or Presidents, our relationship with the United States is enduring. It is of long-standing character; it is important; it is firm; it is robust. I am absolutely certain that the Governments of both countries will want to do everything they can to preserve it.