Last night, during his entertaining slugfest with Jeremy Hunt, his rival for Number 10, Boris Johnson promised to take Britain off the ‘hamster wheel of doom.’ I thought it was the best line of the night. Judging from the applause, the audience did, too.
I should acknowledge that Boris was somewhat parsimonious about exactly what mechanism he intended to employ to effect the announced emancipation. But about two of the evening’s chief issues — Brexit and Britain’s relations with the United States — Boris really didn’t need details. He needed, and demonstrated, determination.
The Sir Humphreys of the world hate Boris, and they hate Brexit. I don’t accuse Jeremy Hunt, Boris’s successor as foreign secretary, of deliberately channeling his inner Sir Humphrey. But his prissy declaration that he, unlike the shambolic B. Johnson, had a ‘202-page’ report outlining all of the things that needed to be done did provoke chortles from my little party of deep thinkers watching the ITV debate. I haven’t seen the report, have no intention of seeking it out, and suspect that it should probably be investigated by whatever government body the Brits use to determine whether consumption of a particular soporific might lead to permanent catatonia.
On the question of Brexit, here’s my helpful advice. Just do it. Keep the £39 billion that the EU says you owe it. The weenies in Brussels will not invade. And it will not take long before they realize that they need Britain more than Britain needs the EU. Besides, whatever temporary inconveniences the assertion of British sovereignty may involve, the invigorating air of liberty that will follow Brexit will prove to be worth it. The United States, Australia, Canada, and the rest of the Anglosphere are poised to step in to salve whatever wounds the EU’s petulance may open. Boris knows this, and his insouciance is not only understandable, it is justified. For example, there will not be a ‘hard border’ in Ireland no matter what bogies incontinent Remainers conjure up.
The question of the UK’s relations with the United States — long wrapped in the tinsel of the ‘special relationship’ — seemed suddenly unwrapped when another Sir Humphrey, Sir Kim Darroch, Her Majesty’s ambassador to Washington, found himself the victim of his own vituperation.
As all the world knows, confidential communications sent by Sir Kim over the past two years to colleagues in London contained some Tabasco characterizations of Donald Trump. Someone, as yet unknown, leaked the cables. ‘I don’t think this administration will ever look competent,’ said the diplomat in one bijou. He expanded on this judgment with such vivid terms as ‘inept’ and ‘uniquely dysfunctional.’ ‘For a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet,’ said the ambassador, ‘President Trump radiates insecurity.’
It will surprise no one that Donald Trump, instead of passing silently over these embarrassing revelations, as a man with smaller hands might have done, lashed out extravagantly on his favorite megaphone, Twitter. After some choice words about what a ‘mess’ Theresa May had made of Brexit — ‘I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way’ — he loosed this thunderbolt: ‘I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the US. We will no longer deal with him.’
‘We will no longer deal with him.’ Point. Set. Match. That declaration was Sir Kim’s pink slip. This was in some respects a pity. I do not know Sir Kim. But many, including Mrs May, rushed in to sing his praises. Doubtless there is a lot of Sir Humphrey about him. How could there not be after 42 years of public service? But I don’t doubt that he is ‘ept’, functional, and that he radiates the sort of ‘security’ that thinks Donald Trump lacks.
I do not share Sir Kim’s assessment of President Trump. But I understand why he would come to the conclusions he did. In the world of Sir Kim, Donald Trump is, or should be, an impossibility. Many commentators noted that he, like the rest of the world, believed that Hillary Clinton (remember her?) was the inevitable, necessary winner of the 2016 US presidential election. The fact that that ineluctable eventuality failed to materialize was not only an intellectual stupefaction, it was a political, an existential outrage. Sir Kim was not alone in his opinions about the failures of Donald Trump and his administration. The entire confraternity of honorary Sir Humphreys — from Paul Ryan on down — thought the same. Sir Kim’s sin was not opining as he did but rather in being exposed as having done so.
Many commentators today are gleefully noting a ‘backlash’ against Boris Johnson for declining to rubbish Donald Trump for punching back at Sir Kim’s cables. They should forget about it. The backlash, such as it is, is merely a blip in the current that will bring Boris to the premiership and, besides, he was entirely right to side with Britain’s most important ally. The chihuahuas in Britain are yapping about not kowtowing to the big bad bully in the White House. But they should give it a rest and move on. It is too bad that Sir Kim was the sacrificial lamb in this scenario, but he should go on to enjoy a well earned retirement.
Today, it was announced that Sir Kim was quitting. Many reports said he made the decision after absorbing Boris’s comments. But Boris was immaterial in this drama. ‘We will no longer deal with him.’ That was Sir Kim’s resignation letter.
Serious people in Britain should focus their attention on discovering the person or persons who leaked the cables. Those responsible did so in part to embarrass Donald Trump, of course, but they did it also in order to interfere in the forthcoming British election. It’s all of a piece with the weaponized leaks that sought to bring down Donald Trump by destroying people associated with him. It didn’t work in that case, and it won’t work now, either. I hope those responsible are found and punished.