Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Kim Darroch, was locked in an extraordinary diplomatic stand-off on Tuesday after Donald Trump said the US would “no longer deal” with him.
The White House immediately followed through on the US president’s warning by disinviting Sir Kim from a dinner with the Emir of Qatar on Monday night, at which the US president was in attendance.
Sir Kim, whose diplomatic cables describing the “inept” and “dysfunctional” Trump administration were leaked to the Mail on Sunday, was due to attend the White House on Tuesday — it is not yet clear whether he will be allowed in.
The ambassador, who has been given Theresa May’s “full support”, was planning to accompany trade secretary Liam Fox to a meeting with Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, at which the minister hopes to calm the row.
Mr Trump’s attack on Sir Kim has thrown down a challenge to Mrs May and whoever succeeds her as prime minister later this month. The US president has previously said that Brexit party leader Nigel Farage would make a good ambassador.
Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the US, told the BBC much now depended on whether Mr Trump tried to block all access by Sir Kim to US officials, including top senior officials, or whether the row subsided over the summer.
Senior Tories said that Britain could not “bow down” to Mr Trump and the new prime minister will be under pressure to allow Sir Kim to conclude his term in Washington, which is due to expire in January 2020.
Allies of Boris Johnson, frontrunner to be the next prime minister, have indicated that Sir Kim is likely to be succeeded by Mark Sedwill, current cabinet secretary, in 2020. They say talk of Mr Farage being sent to Washington are “complete rubbish”.
Any move by a new prime minister to replace a seasoned diplomat with a political appointment would be seen as a hammer blow to Britain’s independent civil service, which has already been dragged into the political arena because of Brexit.
On Monday night Mr Trump tweeted: “I do not know the ambassador, but he is not liked or well-thought of within the US.”
He also struck out at Theresa May for the outgoing British prime minister’s handling of Brexit, accusing her and “her representatives” of creating “a mess” and not taking his advice.
“The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new prime minister,” tweeted Mr Trump. “While I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent state visit last month, it was the Queen who I was most impressed with!”
A British government spokesperson said on Monday night: “We have made clear to the US how unfortunate this leak is. The selective extracts leaked do not reflect the closeness of, and the esteem in which we hold, the relationship.
“At the same time we have also underlined the importance of ambassadors being able to provide honest, unvarnished assessments of the politics in their country.
“Sir Kim Darroch continues to have the prime minister’s full support. The UK has a special and enduring relationship with the US based on our long history and commitment to shared values and that will continue to be the case.”
Although Mr Trump claims to be unfamiliar with Sir Kim, several top Trump officials have been dinner guests of the ambassador, including Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to Mr Trump, as well as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders. Sir Kim also reportedly meets frequently with US national security adviser John Bolton.
Alan Duncan, Foreign Office minister, told MPs on Monday that a cross-government inquiry would be led by the Cabinet Office to find the person responsible for handing over the cables 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.
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”.