Sir Kim Darroch: I told Johnson he was to blame, says fallen envoy

Sir Kim Darroch told Boris Johnson that he shared the blame for his resignation as Britain’s ambassador in Washington after a leak of diplomatic cables disparaging President Trump.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

The former ambassador takes his revenge on the prime minister in The Times Magazine today with the first part of a serialisation detailing his abrupt exit 14 months ago from Britain’s most important diplomatic posting.

He urges Mr Johnson to call off “unprecedented” attacks on senior civil servants and questions Dominic Cummings’s efforts to shake up Whitehall at a time when the UK faces the twin challenges of Brexit and the coronavirus.

In his book, Collateral Damage, Lord Darroch of Kew reveals Mr Johnson’s desperate attempts to evade the blame for his departure from the Washington post. He says Mr Johnson was “fascinated” by the president’s political techniques.

For his part Mr Trump regarded Mr Johnson as a “kindred spirit”, according to the former ambassador. Lord Darroch’s most damaging claim is that Mr Johnson helped to force him out of his job at a time when he was under attack from Mr Trump, whom the envoy had termed “inept” in a diplomatic cable.

Mr Johnson, then running for the Conservative leadership, repeatedly refused to say that he would keep him in post during a TV debate between rival candidates on July 9, 2019, in contrast to Jeremy Hunt, his opponent.

The civil servant, who resigned the following day, told Mr Johnson that he was in part to blame after the politician called to question why he had quit.

In an interview with The Times Magazine Lord Darroch says: “He sounded just like Boris Johnson sounds — starting and then restarting sentences. Very Boris. He said, ‘But why did you resign? Wouldn’t it all have blown over after a few weeks?’ ” In answer to Mr Johnson’s question as to whether the resignation was his fault, he told him that “in part it was”.

Lord Darroch says that Mr Johnson was “intrigued by Trump’s limited vocabulary, the simplicity of the messaging, the disdain for political correctness, the sometimes incendiary imagery, and the at best intermittent relationship with facts and the truth”.

Asked if Mr Johnson has modelled himself on the US president, the former ambassador said: “If you go back through the current prime minister’s history, he’s often said quite striking things. And he never apologises. So, Boris might have done this anyway, but certainly, having watched Trump in action, he wouldn’t have been put off.”

Mr Johnson was “warm” towards Steve Bannon during visits to Washington as foreign secretary, exchanging numbers and emails with the aide, who left Mr Trump’s White House and faces trial on fraud charges, which he denies.

Lord Darroch relates that on one visit Mr Johnson’s then press aide came back in high spirits and, after a problem with his key, attempted to break into the ambassador’s residence via a flat roof. He was spotted on CCTV, apprehended by security and escorted to his room, where he vomited on the carpet.

Lord Darroch, who took his seat in the Lords as a crossbencher in January, was national security adviser in 2012-15. Sir Mark Sedwill, a successor in the role, has left government along with several other senior civil servants after “a sort of trial by briefing to newspapers”, he says.

“Civil servants can’t go out and say what they think, so it’s a free hit for those doing the briefing. I believe it could be stopped if senior ministers were to say, ‘You have to stop doing this.’ With all the challenges in this period in history — Brexit on top of the virus on top of other stuff — is civil service reform really the biggest priority? We’ll see how it looks in three or four years.”

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