LONDON — It sent shock waves through diplomatic corps and is the subject of an ongoing debate about the impartiality of civil servants.
But the scandal that forced the U.K. ambassador to Washington to step down this week showed something else: how the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is weakening.
Sir Kim Darroch, a highly respected career diplomat, announced his departure from Washington on Wednesday after cables in which he called President Donald Trump “insecure” and “incompetent” were leaked to the media.
Darroch had spent four years and three days as Britain’s most senior diplomat, a tenure effectively ended by the president’s withering assessment of him as “wacky,” “very stupid,” and “a fool,” in a series of tweets sent after the leak was published.
Donald J. Trump
The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy. He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was...
5:48 PM - Jul 9, 2019
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Trump’s intervention horrified British civil servants and raised fears that impartial diplomats may increasingly be drawn into a political landscape growing ever more polarized.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British ambassador to the U.S. between 2007 and 2012, told NBC News that Trump had “consistently disparaged the U.K. and shown disrespect, even at the same time he called it the greatest relationship ever known.”
That special relationship, forged after World War II and cemented with various bilateral agreements on security and military cooperation, has in fact been in decline for some time and is being made worse by the U.S. president, Sheinwald said.
“The British-American relationship has a huge amount of depth, centuries of trade and economic ties, all of which have become more advantageous to both countries after the Second World War,” he said.
“Historically the relationship has been in decline for a number of years and it’s under particular pressure because of President Trump and because of Brexit,” he said, referring to the U.K.’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union. “The net effect of the Trump administration has been to downgrade the importance of alliances.”
All the recent former diplomats NBC News spoke to were concerned that civil servants are increasingly being drawn into the political arena and having their views questioned in public. This week, the British pro-Brexit politician and Trump confidant Nigel Farage called Darroch a “globalist” who was politically opposed to the current U.S. administration and called for his replacement.
Trump has suggested that Farage would be a good ambassador. Farage has said he is “not the right man for the job,” although he has made clear he would serve U.K.-U.S. relations in some way.
The idea that a foreign leader may even partly dictate the choice of ambassador has already prompted alarm among British officials.
Not only that, the much-imitated British model of career diplomats being posted to key foreign cities — rather than political allies or financial backers of government figures — was at risk, according to Sheinwald.
“What you need is people who are qualified for the job and who follow the instructions of the government of the day,” he said. “You don’t want people who are ideologically aligned to yourself. We’ve got to get away from that idea of them and us. The civil service, the diplomatic service, represent everyone.”