Lately, the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K. has looked a little more like bickering at the dinner table.
In the latest development, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. resigned on Wednesday, bringing an uncomfortable end to a diplomatic tiff made uglier by President Donald Trump’s refusal to let it go.
The now-former ambassador, Kim Darroch, was thrust into a public spat with Trump when private memos in which he criticized the American president were leaked and published. Trump responded with petty insults, calling Darroch “a very stupid guy” and criticizing outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May for how she handled Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The dispute put Britain in a tough spot: fire Darroch for doing his job, or keep him on and risk more anger from a key ally.
Ultimately, despite May’s firm support, Darroch walked away, saying the situation had become untenable.
“Since the leak of official documents from this embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “I want to put an end to that speculation. The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.”
The leaked communications from Darroch to British leadership showed him calling Trump "inept," "insecure" and "incompetent” and painted a picture of a key ally plagued with dysfunction. British leadership called the leak “unfortunate,” but insisted the nation’s close relationship with the U.S. was as important as ever. Trump, however, said he would “no longer deal with” Darroch at all.
The spat came at an especially sensitive time for the U.K. Relations between May and Trump are frosty at best, and the U.K. is in the middle of picking her successor, with the decision expected by July 22.
During a televised debate on Tuesday, the two candidates to replace May as leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister were asked if they’d keep Darroch on, or force his exit. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted he wouldn’t force Darroch into an early resignation. In a statement released before the debate, Hunt said Trump’s insults were “disrespectful and wrong.”
Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and Hunt’s predecessor as foreign secretary, refused to say he’d keep Darroch on. Johnson, who is considered the near-inevitable winner, stressed that, unlike May, he gets on well with Trump. “I've got a good relationship with the White House, I've got no embarrassment about that," he said.
May reaffirmed her support of Darroch after his resignation on Wednesday, and seemed to take a subtle jab at the White House and at Johnson.
"It is a matter of great regret that [Darroch] has felt it necessary to leave his position," May said in an address to Parliament. “Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice. … And I hope the House will reflect on the importance of defending our values and principles, particularly when they are under pressure.”
Cover: In this Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, file photo, British Ambassador Kim Darroch hosts a National Economists Club event at the British Embassy in Washington. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz, File)