Brendan O’Neill

Why won’t Brexiteers stand up to Donald Trump?

Why won't Brexiteers stand up to Donald Trump?
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There’s a new way of testing if someone is genuinely committed to the ideal of national sovereignty. Let’s call it the Darroch Test.

Will you stand up to any foreign leader who arrogantly presumes the right to tell Britain who its ambassadors overseas should be? Or will you cave in to that foreign leader and effectively let him or her dictate the make-up of Britain’s diplomatic corps?

That’s the Darroch Test. That’s the new national sovereignty test. And, sadly, many Brexiteers, the people who are meant to be standing up for the sovereign rights of the British nation against foreign oligarchies and bureaucratic bullies, have failed it.

Yes, this concerns Kim Darroch, who resigned today as ambassador to the United States. An unscrupulous leak revealed cables in which Mr Darroch referred to President Donald Trump’s administration as ‘inept’ and ‘dysfunctional’ and said its policy on Iran was ‘incoherent’.

Who could disagree with these assessments? Even Boris Johnson — whose failure to defend Darroch this week apparently convinced Darroch he had no choice but to step down — has accused Trump of ‘stupefying ignorance’. The difference is that Boris said those words in public whereas Darroch, as befits his diplomatic role, made his comments in private. It’s not his fault they were leaked.

Darroch did nothing wrong. Ambassadors have been sending stinging private assessments of the nations they’ve been packed off to for as long as diplomacy has existed. It’s part of the job. The wrongdoing was the leaker’s, whoever that was. The leaking of such sensitive cables suggests there’s a serious problem in the Foreign Office. 

Following the leak, Trump said he would no longer deal with Darroch. And right then a challenge was laid down to the British establishment: would it defend Darroch, and by extension Britain’s sovereign right to choose its own ambassadors, or would it give in to Trump and let him effectively decide who should represent the UK overseas?

Too many of them have done the latter. Including Brexiteers. Including the Brexit party, which has spent the past few days demanding that Darroch bugger off, and Boris, whose failure to defend Darroch in last night’s Tory leadership TV debate was stark and telling.

These are people who are supposed to be taking back control. Who are meant to be resuscitating Britain’s sovereign rights. Who have promised to bring legal, political, economic and diplomatic affairs back under the say-so of ordinary Britons and the people we actually elect. 

And yet they flat-out failed to confront Trump, whose comments on Darroch — he branded him a ‘stupid fool’ and a ‘pompous guy’ and said his administration would no longer work with him — were in essence an ultimatum: get rid of this guy or there will be trouble.

The response should have been a clear, polite ‘Mind your own business, Donald’. Ministers and officials, including Boris, should have said:

‘We regret the leaking of Kim Darroch’s comments. But he has done nothing wrong. It is for Britain and Britain alone to choose its ambassadors. And therefore Kim Darroch will be staying in his role.’

Even if it was privately agreed that Darroch would be ‘moved on’ at some point — on the basis that the leak had made his position in the US untenable — still this stance for sovereignty should have been taken and stuck to for a period of time. It would have been a powerful statement to the world, including to the EU.

To challenge the EU’s many arrogant incursions into British sovereignty but not Donald Trump’s belief that he can tell us who to send to the US is hypocritical and wrong.

We now face a really worrying situation in the UK: no wing of the establishment seems capable of genuinely defending our national sovereignty and our democratic rights. The Remainer sections of the elite are more than happy for an unaccountable EU bureaucracy to write laws we Brits must abide by, while too many in the Brexit section of the elite bow down to Trump. A bit more sovereign confidence on all sides is called for. After all, the people voted to ‘take back control’ — let’s do that.