President Donald Trump said Monday that the White House will no longer deal with British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch after a series of leaked diplomatic cables revealed he told 10 Downing Street that the administration was “inept” and “clumsy.”
“I have been very critical about the way the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit. What a mess she and her representatives have created. I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way. I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US,” Trump tweeted.
“We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister. While I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent State Visit last month, it was the Queen who I was most impressed with!” he said.
Despite Trump’s claim that he does not know the ambassador, the President has met Darroch several times including on his recent trip to the UK.
British officials spent the weekend trying to do damage control after the messages leaked as their White House counterparts downplayed Darroch’s comments.
In the cables leaked to the Daily Mail newspaper, Darroch warned the UK government that Trump’s “career could end in disgrace,” and described conflicts within the White House as “knife fights.”
A UK government source told CNN the memos described in the Daily Mail story, which span the period between 2017 to present day, are genuine.
US and British officials had been in touch with each other since the comments first became public, conversations that were described by one person as “constructive.”
Still, hours after Trump’s tweets, a senior administration official and a source familiar told CNN that Darroch had been disinvited from a dinner with Trump and the Emir of Qatar that was planned for Monday evening.
Senior British politicians defended Darroch
Senior British politicians have defended the country’s ambassador to the US and the UK Prime Minister’s spokesman said Monday that Theresa May has “full faith” in Darroch, adding that providing an “unvarnished assessment” is an ambassador’s job.
The spokesman added, however, that May does not agree with Darroch and that London had contacted Washington to say the leaks were “unacceptable and a matter of regret.”
Asked specifically about Trump’s tweets, May’s office told CNN later Monday that the Prime Minister’s position is “unchanged from earlier today.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt — who is also a candidate to be Britain’s next Prime Minister — said on Monday that while he did not share Darroch’s views, it was still “very important” that UK diplomats across the world can “continue to give us their frank assessments.”
“We need to be able to have a debate inside these (government) buildings, we need to be able to disagree,” Hunt told reporters during a press conference in London on Monday.
He said there would be a “leak inquiry” to “get to the bottom” of the incident and that there would be “very serious consequences” for the person responsible.
White House officials have enjoyed a close relationship with the ambassador and his team since Trump took office. They are often spotted at the parties he throws and the meals he hosts at his residence.
One of Darroch’s main points of contact was former chief of staff John Kelly, who he met often for breakfast, though he’s met frequently with national security adviser John Bolton and Bolton’s predecessor H.R. McMaster.
Teams from the embassy also frequently consult the White House in an official capacity, and multiple people familiar with the professional relationships say they are strong.
Trump White House officials often expressed admiration for the UK and British culture, according to people familiar with the matter, hailing a relationship that many conservatives still view through the lens of former President Ronald Reagan’s notoriously close friendship with Margaret Thatcher.
That affinity is something the ambassador and the embassy have used to cultivate relationships within the administration, according to those people.
Officials said coordination for last month’s state visit to London went smoothly and was largely without drama between the White House and the British embassy.
What has concerned British officials the most was the fact that these messages were leaked.
Liam Fox, the UK international trade secretary, told the BBC on Monday he would apologize for the leak to the President’s daughter Ivanka during a pre-planned meeting. He cast the apology as for the leaks and not for the content of the cables.
Leak comes at a sensitive time
The leaked cables come at a sensitive time in UK politics with Conservative Party members currently electing a new prime minister to succeed Theresa May, who was effectively toppled by her own members of Parliament for failing to deliver on her country’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
The favorite for the job, Boris Johnson, is seen as likely to seek to forge a much closer relationship to Trump than May, who made strenuous efforts to court the President and developed a respectful relationship but never really bonded with him politically.
If it leaves the EU, Britain will be seeking to seal a bilateral trade deal with the US and Trump is expected to drive a hard bargain. So there will be speculation that the leak of Darroch’s memos was a politically motivated act by someone in London to clear space in Washington for an outspokenly pro-Brexit ambassador.
While Trump has now returned to his harsh criticism of May, it was only a month ago that he stood alongside her in London and heaped praise on her leadership — including her handling of Brexit.
“That deal is teed up. I think that deal is really teed up. I think they have to do something,” he said during a press conference at the Foreign Office. “And perhaps you won’t be given the credit that you deserve if they do something, but I think you deserve a lot of credit. I really do. I think you deserve a lot of credit.”
Earlier, he seemed to acknowledge that his advice to sue to EU may not have panned out.
“I would have sued and settled, maybe. But you never know. She’s probably a better negotiator than I am,” Trump said.