SPAT after SPAT

US-Britain ties hit new low point with envoy's resignation

British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch's resignation under fire represents a new low point in recent relations between the two countries.
British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch's resignation under fire represents a new low point in recent relations between the two countries.PHOTO: AFP

Since US President Donald Trump took office, he has torn up the diplomatic rulebook and upended standing alliances. Britain, the United States' most enduring partner, is caught up in Washington's spat with Iran, and its ambassador in Washington resigned following disparaging comments from Mr Trump. Long-time ally France has passed new laws that would tax technology giants, and Mr Trump has threatened to retaliate with tariffs. Meanwhile, Washington and Beijing are still locked in a bruising trade and technology war which shows little sign of abating, and other issues involving Taiwan and Hong Kong have also cropped up.

WASHINGTON • The once "special relationship" between the United States and Britain is in tatters, shredded by the fallout from the 2016 Brexit referendum and Pre-sident Donald Trump's determination to intervene in the politics of another country. If it improves, it will likely be on terms set by Mr Trump.

British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch's resignation under fire on Wednesday represents a new low point in recent relations between the two countries. Leaked cables from Mr Darroch to his government that included critical comments about Mr Trump and his administration were the ambassador's undoing. The resignation caused an uproar in Britain.

Ahead of his decision to resign, Mr Darroch received strong support from outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. But what he lacked was a strong endorsement from the man now favoured to succeed Mrs May: Mr Boris Johnson, the favourite to win the race for leadership of the Conservative Party against Mr Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary.

In a leadership debate, Mr Johnson demurred when asked about Mr Darroch's status and what it might be under a Johnson government. With Mr Trump declaring that he would no longer do business with Mr Darroch, and Mr Johnson declining to give the ambassador backing, Mr Darroch was left with no choice but to leave.

Mr Nigel Sheinwald, a former British ambassador to the US, called Mr Trump's treatment of Mr Darroch "vindictive and undignified", adding that the President has repeatedly taken advantage of a government weakened by the Brexit stalemate. "This would never have happened under any other presidency in modern times, and it shows the strains in the UK-US relationship," he said.

Mr Trump and Mrs May have had a stormy relationship from the start. He has repeatedly denigrated Mrs May, primarily over Brexit, the referendum that called for Britain to leave the European Union. He has criticised her negotiating tactics with EU leaders and offered his own strategy as superior. With Mr Johnson, however, he has played nice. On the eve of his visit to Britain a year ago, the President offered praise for Mr Johnson as a possible future PM in a newspaper interview, causing huge embarrassment for Mrs May.

Britain has until the end of October to find a path out of the EU or face the prospect of a no-deal departure. Once out of the EU, Britain wants and needs a trade relationship with the US. Mr Johnson may believe he can strike that deal with Mr Trump better than anyone else. Perhaps he is right, but placing a bet on the President comes with substantial risk.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2019, with the headline 'US-Britain ties hit new low point with envoy's resignation'. Print Edition | Subscribe