Donald Trump, in his characteristic fashion, has delivered a humiliating blow to arguably America’s closest ally, Britain. It all started when a cache of diplomatic cables from the UK ambassador in Washington DC, Kim Darroch, was embarrassingly leaked to a British newspaper last week.
In the cables, Darroch had described Trump as “inept” and “incompetent”, and his administration as “chaotic” and “dysfunctional”. Trump’s rejoinder was swift and devastating. In a flurry of tweets, he attacked the ambassador as “wacky”, “a very stupid guy”, and a “pompous fool”.
Not content with that, the US President went after outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, whose handling of the Brexit hot potato he ridiculed as “foolish”. Britons could hardly recall any other time when a US leader had insulted their country in such a ferocious way. Never mind that Darroch was essentially doing what an envoy is paid to do: To give frank, confidential assessments of the country where he is posted to, a point Mrs May and her cabinet, together with the British Parliament, emphasised in their unified support for Darroch. However, it was too late. The damage had been done by the leaks and Trump was furious. Darroch soon found out that his position as UK envoy in DC had become untenable. He resigned.
Make no mistake, Darroch was intentionally forced out by Trump. The US leader did not need to officially declare him persona non grata. His actions left the ambassador in an impossible position. The envoy’s access was abruptly cut off. He was disinvited, at the last minute, from a banquet hosted by Trump for the Emir of Qatar. Then he was kept off from a luncheon attended by Trump’s powerful daughter and adviser, Ivanka. The doors were deliberately being shut on Darroch. The writing was on the wall.
To make matters worse, the fellow who looks most likely to become the next British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, failed to speak out in defence of Darroch or give a guarantee that he would retain him in his Washington DC post. During a TV debate with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is Johnson’s opponent in the PM race, the former contrastingly did not mince words that Darroch had done nothing wrong that would warrant his removal from his post.
The Darroch saga has prompted painful soul-searching in Britain, not just about the country’s relations with the temperamental Trump, but more fundamentally about her traditionally privileged relationship with the US. Like with a nasty smack in the face, Trump delivered the message on who is boss in the relationship, a point British officialdom sometimes forgets. Britain now has been left feeling very vulnerable because she knows she is in a weak position as she seeks to negotiate a preferential trade deal with the superpower. As the UK prepares to exit the European Union, this is one deal she desperately wants to secure. Darroch had long forewarned his superiors that Trump doesn’t much care for the so-called “special relationship” Britain clings to. He remains an unalloyed believer in “America First”.
Matters have now shifted to finding out who leaked the cables, and his motivation. A police investigation has been opened, and whoever it smokes out as the culprit will be eaten alive by a seething British establishment whose pride has been deeply wounded by Trump. One theory doing the rounds in official London is that the leak was probably the work of a pro-Brexit official who wanted the anti-Brexit Darroch pushed out from Britain’s most important diplomatic posting so that the pro-Brexit Johnson gets a free hand to appoint his own man in Washington DC when he takes office.
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Our MPs are playing with our minds when they insist on comparing themselves with State officers such as CSs or judges. The latter are full-time government employees who are barred from taking up any other salaried employment as long as they remain in office. MPs, however, are free to do other work for pay, in addition to the private businesses most of them conduct. There is no law that stops an MP from holding, say, a paid directorship in a private company. Also, MPs who are lawyers are often seen in court representing fee-paying clients. The long and short of it is, their work in Parliament is part-time.
That is why it is absurd when they say they want to be treated the same like CSs or PSs when it comes to salary and house allowances. Don’t be too greedy, guys. For that part-time job, you are remunerated more than you deserve. In fact you are better paid, in relative terms, than your peers in most other countries.
Nor should MPs tire us with excuses of how they are impoverished by constituents pestering them for cash. Nobody forced them to run for Parliament. They can resign and resume a comfortable private life.