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Quite the vassal state they’re in… July 12, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Check this out from Martin Kettle:

What precedent was there, the foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat asked [chief of Britain’s Foreign Office Simon] McDonald straight off, for the head of state of a friendly government to do what Donald Trump has done this week and make it impossible for Britain’s senior representative in that country to do his job? McDonald’s answer was monosyllabic, crisp and explosive. “None,” he said.

Go on…

Labour’s Chris Bryant followed up. Surely there were precedents from unfriendly countries such as Venezuela? “I know of none,” McDonald replied again. Not even hostile states have behaved like Trump, he insisted. Had there been some distant occasion when a British ambassador fell foul of the White House in such a way? There was, McDonald admitted, a “difficulty” in 1856, when President Franklin Pierce accused the British ambassador of recruiting Americans to fight in the Crimean war. The listeners in committee room 16 laughed, but McDonald did not.


And then came in many ways the most extraordinary remark of the lot. “Nothing like this has ever happened before,” McDonald told another MP. “There must be consequences. What they are in detail I can’t tell you this afternoon.”

Consider the political dynamic at work here. Difficult, granted, to disentangle it from the personality of Trump, but necessary. This is a situation where the leader of a sovereign, nominally friendly, state, has essentially pushed an ambassador of another nominally friendly state close to resignation (reading a lot of analysis it seems Darroch would have survived until the Autumn when his term was up even given Trump’s actions). But, as Martin Kettle notes, added to that was the initial leak, from pro-Brexit quarters, and worse again…

Boris Johnson, who knowingly refused to express confidence in Darroch during Tuesday’s ITV leadership hustings with Jeremy Hunt. It was Johnson’s action that led directly to Darroch’s inevitable resignation today.

Kettle points to a number of plausible reasons how Darroch’s words could have been leaked – from internal politicking to intercepts by other powers. But Kettle makes a devastating point, something I’ve riffed on here this week too albeit perhaps not so bluntly.

Either way, these options are devastating for the practicality of diplomatic cables in the modern era. They are a reminder too of the extent to which Brexit subverts the workings of the British state. There’s been nothing like it for alternative loyalty since the Soviet spies of the cold-war era.

Brexit introduces a new (dis) loyalty to the British state. Most of us will have deep criticisms of that state, but this is simply to state the fact. Who speaks for a Britain where a cohort within it appear entirely comfortable to effectively cede sovereignty to the US while continually espousing their supposed allegiance to British sovereignty. Indeed in a way what is so breathtaking is the sheer hypocrisy, as noted this week too, of those whose loyalties to Britain appear to be bizarrely cosmetic. Kettle also notes that Trump, at a minimum, weakened Britain, and that use of the term ‘nominally friendly’ is quite deliberate.

As for Johnson, what more or less would one expect?

Kettle makes a further serious point. This may be the new normal, the world has changed…

The underpinnings of Trumpism, in the shape of populist nationalism and contempt for other countries, alliances and accords, go much deeper, both in the US and in Brexit Britain. If Johnson, or any other Brexiter leader, gets his way, Britain may once again embrace the US. But the America they embrace will not be the outward-looking republic of presidents from Eisenhower to Obama but an inward-looking exceptionalist country that seeks to disrupt everything about the international order. In such a world, Britain risks becoming the vassal of a capricious unilateralist state. Johnson or his successor would be Britain’s Carrie Lam to Washington’s Xi Jinping.

And where does Britain stand in this? Numerous Tories have used the term ‘vassal state’ in reference to the EU – entirely incorrectly. This, what the UK has just been treated to, how Trump has acted, how Johnson has responded, is the very definition of a vassal state.


1. Jim Monaghan - July 12, 2019

It would be interesting to see similar leaks from say their envoy to Brussels, covering both sides.


2. EWI - July 12, 2019

At least with Suez I suppose they could claim that it was a clash of interests, one last kick from the dying British Empire.

This? It’s just humiliation for a fit of pique, entirely trivial reasons. Do the two new (unaffordable) supercarriers compensate for this new fall in importance?


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