Theresa May on Monday expressed her “full faith” in Britain’s ambassador to the US, as a government inquiry started to try to identify the individual responsible for the “despicable” leak of a cache of diplomatic cables critical of the Trump administration.
Mrs May’s spokesman said she expected Sir Kim Darroch and other diplomats to provide “honest, unvarnished assessments of politics in their countries”, as ministers closed ranks behind the ambassador after his confidential telegrams were leaked.
Alan Duncan, Foreign Office minister, told MPs that a cross-government inquiry would be led by the Cabinet Office to find the person responsible for handing over the telegrams to the Mail on Sunday.
“If evidence of criminality is found then the police could be involved,” said Sir Alan. Senior government officials confirmed that the inquiry would seek to establish if there had been a breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Although Donald Trump, US president, said on Sunday that Sir Kim had “not served the UK well”, there was little support in Britain for the idea that he should be withdrawn from Washington early. His four-year term as ambassador expires in January 2020.
But Sir Kim’s reflections on the “inept” and “dysfunctional” nature of the Trump administration divided Conservative MPs and highlighted how Brexit has dragged civil servants into the political arena.
Sir Kim is a former British ambassador to the EU and is viewed by some Tories as hostile to Mr Trump and part of a pro-Europe establishment that is trying to thwart Brexit.
Bill Cash, a veteran Eurosceptic Conservative, claimed that Sir Kim’s “toxic” comments were unjustified and based on “personal prejudice”, adding he should be removed from his post because of a “lack of judgment”.
But Sir Alan said Sir Bill’s comments were “deeply unworthy” and that the ambassador, who helped to oversee Mr Trump’s successful recent state visit to Britain, had provided “reporting of the highest quality”.
Downing Street and Sir Alan said the ambassador’s cables did not reflect official government thinking. Sir Alan added the leak was “despicable”.
Mrs May’s spokesman said there was no evidence that a hostile overseas government had hacked the documents.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said Britain was developing “a culture of leaks” which could dissuade allies from sharing sensitive information.
He also said that senior military officers had told him they were worried that their reports to ministers might also find their way into the public domain.
Allies of Boris Johnson, the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership contest, have indicated that Sir Kim might be replaced in Washington by Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary, some time in 2020.
Mr Johnson’s team has denied suggestions that he might instead appoint Nigel Farage, Brexit party leader, to the role of US ambassador, as previously proposed by Mr Trump.
However, Mr Farage, recently elected as a Brexit party MEP, said he was not the right person for the job.
Anthony Scaramucci, former spokesman for the Trump administration, said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that Sir Kim should be recalled from Washington ahead of schedule.
He said Mr Trump was a “big boy who can handle someone who is critical of him”, adding that Sir Kim had a “bipartisan wealth of support” in Washington.