U.K. Needs Diplomat, Not Politician, as U.S. Envoy, Hammond Says

Stuart Biggs and Francine Lacqua
U.K. Needs Diplomat, Not Politician, as U.S. Envoy, Hammond Says

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond added to the furor surrounding the resignation of Kim Darroch as British ambassador in Washington, calling for his successor to come from the U.K.’s “excellent” diplomatic service -- a rebuke to those calling for a political appointment.

Though he declined to say if outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May should make the choice or leave it to her successor -- most likely Boris Johnson -- Hammond said the U.K. link with the U.S. is the “single most important diplomatic relationship we have” and the position shouldn’t be left “unfilled.”

“We have excellent candidates in the diplomatic service,” Hammond said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Friday. “There’s a normal process that takes place when an ambassador retires or resigns to replace him or her with a new ambassador from within our own excellent diplomatic service. I very much hope that will happen in the case of Washington.”

Darroch resigned after a spat with Donald Trump over the leak of unflattering cables he sent about the U.S. president. The episode has dominated political debate in the U.K. and overshadowed the ongoing Conservative Party leadership contest to replace May. Front-runner Boris Johnson was blamed by his critics for undermining Darroch’s position by refusing to pledge support to the diplomat.

Much of the reaction has cleaved along partisan lines. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, a close ally who Trump once said would make a “great” ambassador to the U.S., said Darroch was “totally unsuitable for the job.” Other pro-Brexit critics of the outgoing envoy have called for the appointment of someone from outside the diplomatic service who shares their views on leaving the EU and the need for a U.K.-U.S. trade deal.

‘Political Football’

Johnson’s failure to defend Darroch in a televised debate Tuesday was a factor in the envoy’s resignation, a Foreign Office official told Bloomberg. That was in stark contrast to Johnson’s leadership rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said Trump’s outburst had been “disrespectful and wrong.”

Alan Duncan, a minister in the Foreign Office, said in the wake of the debate that Johnson had thrown Darroch “under a bus” by refusing to back him, but Johnson defended his comments late Thursday at a campaign event in Maidstone, southeast England.

"There has certainly been an attempt to politicize this issue and to take the career prospects of Sir Kim and turn them into an issue in the Conservative Party leadership contest,” Johnson said. "I will stand up for our fantastic diplomats across the world, I just don’t think that their careers should be used as political footballs."

May’s office has said Darroch’s replacement will be announced in “due course.”

--With assistance from Francine Lacqua.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stuart Biggs in London at sbiggs3@bloomberg.net;Francine Lacqua in London at flacqua@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny, Alex Morales

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