JUSTIN WEBB: Sir Kim’s assessment of Trump is tamer than most, but the leak couldn’t have come at a worse time
One of the more striking things about Sir Kim Darroch’s view of Donald Trump is that, for all the outrage that has met yesterday’s revelations, almost anyone who has ever spoken about the President has said much the same thing. Or worse.
Book after well-sourced book has revealed to the world that the 45th president’s administration is not exactly a model of efficiency: anyone in Downing Sreet with time to pop to Waterstone’s might already have reached the same conclusions as the well-paid British Ambassador.
So why do these leaks matter so much? Primarily, because, as most people have learnt by now, Trump himself is peculiarly thin-skinned and given to extroardinary rages.
As his presidential chronicler Michael Wolff cuttingly puts it in his most recent book Siege: ‘Not only is Trump not like other presidents, he is not like anyone most of us have ever known… #’To have worked anywhere near him is to be confronted with the most extreme and disorienting behaviour possible.’
One of the more striking things about Sir Kim Darroch’s (pictured) view of Donald Trump is that, for all the outrage that has met yesterday’s revelations, almost anyone who has ever spoken about the President has said much the same thing. Or worse, writes JUSTIN WEBB
So what, after being called ‘inept’, ‘insecure’ and ‘incompetent’, will Trump now think of this senior British diplomat?
If experience is anything to go by, he is unlikely to shrug magnanimously and chuckle to himself, as his predecessor Barack Obama might have done.
Instead, Trump may prove to be utterly infuriated by these characterisations. He may ensure that the leaks have a painful and lasting impact on the day-to-day ability of British officials to get access to the Trump inner circle and advance our interests in the American capital.
That is why these leaks could not have come at a worse time. With both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt promising to take Britain out of Europe by the end of October with or without a deal, Britain’s mandarins already recognise that they need their most important bilateral relationship as never before. Now their work has been made much harder.
British civil servants are already under extreme pressure. The historic constitutional idea of a neutral body, not dependent on the vagaries of elections, offering dispassionate advice to the Government, has been deeply damaged by the Brexit negotiations.
Officials have – unfairly, they say – been blamed for the mess in which the country now finds itself.
President Trump is pictured before departing from New Jersey, USA on July 7
Meanwhile, an inquiry has been launched after one senior civil servant leaked to a journalist claims that Jeremy Corbyn’s physical and mental health leave him unfit for office. Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Service, has called for this anonymous briefer to be sacked.
It is all threatening, say many commentators, that reassuring way we have of doing things which was so beautifully depicted in the 1980s TV programme ‘Yes, Minister’.
There, though the method was gently sent up, the Government was always managed with sound advice.
But back to yesterday’s leaks. More worrying perhaps even than any potential damage to the US-UK relationship is the sense that this leak feels like an attack on officialdom.
If officials can’t brief in secret, how can they do their jobs? How can they advance our interests abroad?
It is true that this is not the first ambassadorial leak. My friend Sir Nigel Sheinwald, who was ‘our man in Washington’ in 2008 after Obama had won the Democratic nomination for the presidency, was deeply annoyed when it was reported that he had said Obama could be ‘uninspiring’ in debates.
Justin Webb is a former BBC North America correspondent (pictured outside the White House)
Eleven years ago, of course, Obama’s fluent and soaring oratory was much-praised by the commentariat. Nonetheless, despite some red faces, the special relationship survived.
However, the unique personality of Trump, the fact he is actually installed in office, and the severity of the criticism – all make this much more serious.
If a second electoral victory came to pass, we would surely see Trump unbound.
Will that happen? Sir Kim believes that this scandal-hit presidency could conceivably ‘crash and burn’ long before the next election, and that ‘we could be at the beginning of a downward spiral… that leads to disgrace and downfall’.
In this he echoes Trump’s former ally Steve Bannon, who has reportedly said that Trump ‘won’t go out classy’.
In that context, I wonder, whether Trump might in fact have relished Sir Kim’s vivid description of the President ’emerg[ing] from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator’.
Donald Trump holds grudges. Perhaps Britain now has a vested interest in seeing the Democrats elected in 2020. Otherwise it could get very unclassy indeed.
Justin Webb is a former BBC North America correspondent.
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