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Trump tweeted, ‘The ambassador is not well liked within the US. We will no longer deal with him’
My chief of staff, poised in the doorway
to my office, looked anxious. It was Friday, July 5, 2019, the day after US Independence Day: the embassy was half empty. And it was a typical summer’s day in the Swamp: hot, humid, soupy.
The Mail on Sunday had tipped off one of the foreign secretary’s special advisers that they had a stash of communications from the Washington embassy to Whitehall.
Copies of the leaked texts were handed around. The three documents we had identified were diptels – diplomatic telegrams, in Foreign Office jargon – from the previous three weeks. These were sensitive but I reckoned the blowback should be manageable. The remaining text was a confidential letter from me to Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary and national security adviser, dating back to mid-2017. This had been written as input for a top- level discussion of UK-US relations, some six months into the new US administration. My mood sank. This was really bad.
When I wrote that letter in 2017,
I had known what was required: a frank, unvarnished assessment of the Trump administration.
Around 5pm Washington time, the first Mail on Sunday article landed in my email inbox. And the reality looked, well, terrible. On the front page they had highlighted the criticisms – words like “inept” and “deeply dysfunctional” – together with the comment that the administration, already mired in scandal, could be at the beginning of a downward spiral leading to disgrace. I had said that the president “radiated insecurity”. “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”
By Sunday morning the story was leading most of the US news channels and spiralling across social media. I got a mid- morning phone call from my wife, Vanessa, who sounded shocked. She said she had been woken by her mother at 7am with the words: “You have to come and look at the television! Kim is all over the news.”
The president landed on the White House lawn late that Sunday afternoon. The press corps were waiting to fire questions at him. And inevitably, one
of the first was about his reactions to the leaks of my report. The president said, “The ambassador has not served the UK
well. We are not big fans of that man.” My immediate thought was that, if this was it, it was survivable.
But I had always expected it to be
a reckoning by Twitter, and so it proved.
On Monday morning, the president tweeted, “I do not know the ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US. We will no longer deal with him.” It flashed instantly through my mind that it was all over. But I didn’t, at that moment, pursue the thought: with new information coming on stream at every moment, there was no space to think things through.
Liam Fox, the secretary of state for international trade, arrived in Washington that afternoon on a long-scheduled visit.
I was due to accompany him on most of his calls the following day. I was also due to attend a dinner at the US Treasury that evening in honour of the ruler of Qatar.
Tuesday started ominously. I was told that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wanted to speak on the telephone. The lie
of the land could not have been clearer if someone had taped a “get lost” message to a brick and thrown it through a window of the residence. I phoned Mnuchin mid-morning. Sounding understandably uncomfortable, he said that it would be inappropriate for me to attend the Qatari dinner.
In the UK there had been a televised debate between the two remaining candidates for the succession to Theresa May, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. Hunt had volunteered
strong support for me – “If I become
prime minister, Darroch stays” – and challenged his opponent to make the same commitment. Johnson ducked and weaved and argued that this was not something that should be debated in public.
On the spur of the moment, I invited the team over for a casual supper. I said to them: “Given what the president has said, do you think I can now actually do the job of ambassador?” We kicked the arguments around for a while without resolution, though inside, my own views were hardening. But I knew there was someone more important I had to consult before reaching a decision, even though it was approaching 3am in the UK. I excused myself and went to phone Vanessa. n
© Sir Kim Darroch 2020. Extracted from
Collateral Damage: Britain, America and Europe in the Age of Trump, published

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