Britain’s ambassador to the United States called President Donald Trump “uniquely dysfunctional” and expressed grave concerns about American economic and foreign policy in a series of cables that were leaked to the British tabloid the Daily Mail and published on Saturday.
The leaked cables, prepared by Sir Kim Darroch (who has served as ambassador from Britain to the US since January 2016), cover the entirety of the Trump presidency, even touching on an official state visit to the UK less than a month ago, when the Trump and his family attended a banquet at Buckingham Palace and afternoon tea with Prince Charles and Camilla, and laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.
Despite the widespread and colorful protests that took place during that visit, Darroch wrote afterwards that the UK might now be “flavour of the month” in Trump’s eyes. But these leaks may challenge whatever goodwill emerged from the US president’s visit.
In the documents, Darroch describes “vicious infighting and chaos” within the Trump administration, and said that collusion between Trump and “dodgy Russians” was possible.
He also warned that an “America First”-style foreign policy could undermine international trade agreements, and warned negotiations over Brexit could introduce further conflict into the two countries’ diplomatic relations.
Trump has endorsed Brexit in the past, and recommended the UK “walk away” from the EU without a deal ahead of his state visit. After it leaves the European Union, the UK will need to renegotiate a number of its trade agreements, and could look to strengthen its trade ties with the US. Darroch wrote doing so could be easier said than done due to the Trump administration’s stances on a variety of issues.
“As we advance our agenda of deepening and strengthening trading arrangements, divergences of approach on climate change, media freedoms, and the death penalty may come to the fore,” the ambassador wrote.
Darroch also criticized Trump’s foreign policy more generally, and cited the administration’s stance on Iran as being of concern.
He wrote of Trump’s last minute decision to call off a military strike against Iran, expressing frustration at the confusion that rippled across the diplomatic community during the incident. He also cautioned his government to be wary of believing Trump’s rationale for canceling the strike (the president said he decided against the attack after learning there would be civilian casualties).
“His claim, however, that he changed his mind because of 150 predicted casualties doesn’t stand up; he would certainly have heard this figure in his initial briefing,” Darroch wrote. “It’s more likely that he was never fully on board and that he was worried about how this apparent reversal of his 2016 campaign promises would look [during the 2020 election].”
Darroch also warned that the US president could still choose to strike Iran: “Just one more Iranian attack somewhere in the region could trigger yet another Trump U-turn.”
This is something Trump has made clear himself; during an interview with Meet the Press in late June, the president said, “If they do something else, it’ll be double.” During the same interview, Trump also said, “I’m not looking for war and if there is, it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”
Overall, Darroch described the president as “clumsy and inept,” and wrote, “I don’t think this Administration will ever look competent.”
In spite of the concerns Darroch raised, he also assessed Trump as someone whom the UK can expect to complete his first term in full, writing that despite controversies, Trump will always “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator.”
It is unclear who leaked the memos, and the White House has not yet commented on them, according to the New York Times.
This is not the first time that a communication from Darroch regarding the president has leaked. In a telegram sent shortly before Trump’s election, but published shortly afterwards, Darroch suggested to British Prime Minister Theresa May that the president-elect could be “open to outside influence” from Britain.
In a statement issued in response to these most recent leaks, Britain’s Foreign Office defended their diplomat.
“The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country,” the statement read in part. “Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid. Just as the U.S. ambassador here will send back his reading of Westminster politics and personalities.”
Donald Trump has had a long, complicated relationship with the UK
Leaders from the United States and United Kingdom have long referred to a “special relationship” existing between the two nations. Winston Churchill famously upheld this idea during the years immediately following World War II, insisting that a similar war could only be avoided by maintaining close ties between Britain and the United States.
Theresa May described last month’s official state visit as a “significant week for the special relationship.”
But Donald Trump has repeatedly complicated that relationship by squabbling with various political figures in Britain and inserting himself into that country’s political process. En route to the state visit, for example, he responded to London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s criticism of his trip by tweeting Khan was “a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me.”
The tweet came after years of the two men trading barbs, as Vox’s Alex Ward has described: Khan has called Trump “ill-informed” and his Muslim ban “ignorant;” Trump has accused Khan of being blasé about terrorism and crime.
The president also criticized Meghan Markle, the American actress who recently married into the royal family, in the lead up to his state visit. As Vox’s Gabriela Resto-Montero reported:
Although the royal family stays away from commenting on politics, particularly foreign politics, Markle was critical of Trump during the 2016 election, back when she was a private American citizen.
When asked about Markle saying she’d move to Canada if he was elected, Trump responded, “I didn’t know she was nasty.”
Beyond insulting the country’s politicians and public figures, Trump has inserted himself into the UK’s political process in a manner US president typically avoid.
On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump came out strongly for Brexit, saying things like: “I know Great Britain very well. I know, you know, the country very well. I have a lot of investments there. I would say that they’re better off without it. But I want them to make their own decision.”
He has continued his advocacy for the UK’s divorce from the European Union as president, often without adding qualifiers such as “I want them to make their own decision.” He addressed the British people in an interview with the Sunday Times ahead of his state visit and said: “If you don’t get the deal you want, if you don’t get a fair deal, then you walk away.”
The president is also linked to right-wing politicians in Britain, and has seemingly endorsed two of them: Boris Johnson, a Brexit supporter and Theresa May’s former foreign secretary, and Brexiteer and current leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage.
In a 2018 interview with British tabloid The Sun, Trump heavily criticized May’s handling of Brexit, and said Johnson would make “a great prime minister.” The comments came as May was busy defending the decision to invite the president for a state visit. In recent weeks, Johnson has taken the lead in the race to replace May; while Trump has not officially endorsed Johnson’s candidacy, the British politician said Trump called him during the UK visit and “wished me well.”
Trump has advocated for putting Farage in charge of future Brexit negotiations, telling the Sunday Times, “I like Nigel a lot. He has a lot to offer, he is a very smart person. They won’t bring him in but think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet.”
The president has also publicly lobbied for Farage to be given another job: Ambassador Darroch’s. Shortly after his election, he tweeted that Farage should become ambassador to the US. In response, Darroch’s predecessor, Peter Westmacott, told the Guardian: “Ambassadors need to be acceptable to host governments, not chosen by them.”