Sir Kim Darroch’s forced resignation at the hands of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson was the entirely predictable outcome of the utterly malicious leaking of his secret communications to the Foreign Office.
I don’t buy for a minute the suggestion that the leaking was done by hackers working for a foreign state. Nor do I believe that the culprit was a career civil servant.
In my view, the leaking was perpetrated by a political figure or someone working in a political capacity for a political figure.
The most obvious suspect must be someone who deeply resents Sir Kim’s withering analysis of the Trump regime in Washington. That in turn suggests a hard line Brexiteer who shares a view point common in that ilk that the establishment in the form of the permanent civil service is determined to make Brexit either unworkable or so soft as to keep the UK closely aligned with the EU.
Apparently the leaks relied on a number of secret reports rather than just one. That, in turn, suggests that the perpetrator had access to Sir Kim’s reports over a protracted period of time. Moreover, any person who had access to such reports over a protracted period of time would undoubtedly have access to other secret remarks by the ambassador on highly sensitive issues. The fact that the leaks all centred on the theme of Trump’s inadequacies suggests that the motive of the leaker was to gravely damage the ambassador’s status in Washington and to provoke a reaction from Trump himself.
Trump’s tweets in relation to Sir Kim Darroch were entirely predictable. He could have chosen to ignore the leaked comments about his presidency and to allow Sir Kim to quietly leave his Washington post by the back door on his scheduled departure date at the year’s end.
Instead, Trump went for the jugular, belittling Darroch and Theresa May and stoking up the flames of the hardline Tory Brexiteers’ campaign for a No-deal Brexit.
Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand by Sir Kim effectively pulled the trapdoor lever on a political gallows. He, too, could have bought time. He could have preserved the United Kingdom’s dignity, even at the expense of risking some cooling in the mutual admiration relationship between himself and Trump.
But he chose not to do so.
In the result, the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and the US has mutated into a manifestly unequal master and servant relationship. For the UK to be bullied by Trump into what amounts to a constructive dismissal of Sir Kim in order to soothe the monstrous ego of Trump shows complete subservience rather than partnership between the two states.
What is more, Trump now has the UK where he wants it. Unless a soft Brexit is negotiated with the EU, Trump will be able to bully the UK into a completely subservient trading relationship with the US.
Simon Coveney’s briefing of the cabinet during the week about the economic implications of a no-deal Brexit has been a sobering experience, not merely for his fellow cabinet members or for the body politic but for the wider Irish economic community. A no-deal Brexit on WTO terms would do immense damage to three economies – Northern Ireland, the Republic and the United Kingdom. Pritti Patel and Jacob Rees Mogg have both in the past threatened to use the leverage of economic ruination for the Republic as a bargaining chip in their talks with the EU.
Make no mistake, a hard no-deal; Brexit would be a very difficult storm for Ireland to weather, with or without any EU aid package. Dire warnings about job losses and falls in house prices are very real threats to our economic well-being. This week the CSO computed our annual growth rate in GPD at 8.2% which, by any standards, is very high.
But a no-deal Brexit on WTO terms would not merely slam on the brakes; it would throw the economy into reverse in a gear crunching crisis.
For Northern Ireland, the economic consequences of a hard no-deal Brexit are probably worse. We have already forgotten the warnings we received a few months ago about the necessity for Irish insured motorists to obtain new documentation if their cars are to legally cross the border.
Consider the economic implications of that state of affairs for west and south Ulster and for the Northern Ireland tourism industry. Consider the effects of a no-deal Brexit on the northern agri-food business. Consider the likelihood of obtaining replacement jobs for those to be lost in the Bombardier plant in Belfast. The threat to Northern Ireland’s already structurally weak economy posed by a no-deal Brexit are truly massive.
But Britain too is in no condition to risk a no-deal Brexit. If the EU plays hard ball with the UK, the consequences for exports and for foreign direct investment into the UK and for access to the European market would be enormous and possibly catastrophic.
While Johnson can pose as being willing to leave a no-deal hard Brexit on the negotiating table in the hope of forcing an EU climb down, there is every reason to believe that he will, come October, be as desperate as anybody else to avoid a crash out at Halloween.
If Johnson needs a face-saver, the EU will probably give it to him in the form of some fudged language in the political declaration on the future economic relationship between the UK and the EU. The fudge may even elaborate on the possibility of keeping an open border on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain using technological solutions.
But the EU cannot really turn a blind eye to inspection-free movement of goods between the two parts of Ireland and between these islands in the medium or long term.
So the most likely outcome, in my judgment, is that Johnson will concentrate on saving his political face in the context of the political statement and perhaps even some memorandum of understanding designed to give the Irish backstop a sense of impermanence.
Meanwhile, the narrow squeak by which Dominic Grieve’s amendment to the Northern Ireland legislation designed to prevent the proroguing of Parliament in the House of Commons was passed, is indicative of the strength of the Tories’ knee jerk desire to maintain party unity at all costs.
Whether that NI legislation is further amended in the House of Lords so as to entirely exclude the possibility of Boris Johnson “advising” the Queen to prorogue Parliament remains unclear but it is difficult to see how Johnson can actually push through a no-deal Brexit outcome if Parliament remains in session.
The problem for Johnson, therefore, is that the EU can call his bluff on a no-deal Brexit. In poker terms, the EU can see the weak cards in Boris’s hands.
He could be swept out of office in an early election if he attempts a crash-out. The ERG Tories will not bring him down if he brings back from Brussels a face-saving compromise based on a back-stop fudge. Nor will the DUP.
Many feel that Boris will do anything that avoids an election that could result in a vote haemorrhage to the Lib Dems, the Brexit party and to a Labour party promising a second vote.
Sir Kim Darroch fighting a Westminster seat for the Lib Dems is an intriguing possibility – a possible nemesis for Boris.
Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34599566