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UK ambassador to Washington quits over Trump row

Paul Morigi / Getty Images North America / AFP (file photo) | British Ambassador Kim Darroch speaks at the British Embassy in Washington, DC on January 18, 2017.

Britain’s ambassador to Washington resigned Wednesday after Donald Trump labelled him “stupid” and “wacky” following a leak of confidential diplomatic memos in which the envoy said the US president’s administration was inept.

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The shock resignation of British Ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, a day after a Conservative Party leadership debate sparked accusations that frontrunner Boris Johnson had thrown the envoy “under the bus”.

At a Tuesday night debate, Johnson and Jeremy Hunt -- the two contenders for the prime minister’s post – were asked if they would support Darroch if they were prime minister.

While Hunt replied in the affirmative, Johnson evaded the question and gave a banal response on the importance of US-UK bilateral relations.

“It was the make-or-break moment,” explained Philip Turle, FRANCE 24’s international news commentator. “Reports are coming in that Sir Kim Darroch watched that debate and because Boris Johnson is the favourite to take over as prime minister after Theresa May, he [Darroch] knew that if that was the case he would not receive the support from Boris Johnson to remain in the job. That’s what pushed him to hand in his resignation.”

'Johnson's comments may have prompted resignation'

‘Impossible’ to carry out ambassador’s role

The resignation followed days of embarrassing headlines and tweets which were sparked by a leak of British diplomatic cables that included Darroch’s assessment that the Trump presidency was inept.

The US president responded with a series of withering tweets, branding Darroch “very stupid” and May “foolish”. As the spat intensified, Trump said he would no longer deal with Darroch.

Citing reasons for his resignation, Darroch said his position had become untenable. "Since the leak of official documents from this Embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador," said Darroch, who was due to step down at the end of the year.

"I want to put an end to that speculation. The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like."

May backs Darroch

In his confidential memos dating from 2017 to the present, Darroch, 65, had said reports of in-fighting in the White House were “mostly true” and last month described confusion within the administration over Trump’s decision to call off a military strike on Iran.

“We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” Darroch wrote in one cable.

May told parliament that ministers had expressed their backing for Darroch, a career diplomat who was due to leave his post anyway at the end of the year.

“I have told him it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position as ambassador to Washington,” she said. “The whole cabinet rightly gave its full support to Sir Kim on Tuesday.”

May supports Darroch's 'full and frank advice'

The souring of relations between Britain and the United States comes at a particularly unwelcome time for London, which is mired in the details of how and when to leave the European Union, a departure currently scheduled for October 31.

Britain is hoping to strike a major post-Brexit trade deal with Washington as one of the upsides of leaving the bloc.

May herself is due to step down as prime minister by the end of July and while one of the two contenders to replace her, foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, had said Darroch should keep his job, the other, frontrunner Boris Johnson, had pointedly declined to do so.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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