Kim Darroch is the former British Ambassador to the United States and author of “ Collateral Damage: Britain, America And Europe In The Age Of Trump ”
It was not until 24 hours after the capture of the Capitol that Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, finally broken with Donald Trump. I witnessed Mr Johnson’s fascination with the US President when he was Foreign Secretary – and how this continued when he became UK Prime Minister. In addition to a reminder of the importance of principles in foreign policy, I fear it will cost Britain in terms of our relationship with the Biden administration.
I realized the haphazard nature of Mr. Trump’s administration four years ago. It was an evening in January 2017. I was at Dulles airport, and then Prime Minister Theresa May’s plane had just taken off. She was the first foreign leader to see the new US president, just a week after his inauguration. It had been a strange meeting, but a real coup. With the tail lights of his plane gone, I judged the UK as well placed as could be hoped for when this Unknown Administration was launched.
A few hours later, we rethought this heartwarming assessment. Mr. Trump signed an executive order banning passport holders from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Nicknamed “the Muslim ban,“It caused chaos at airports around the world, with thousands of passengers being caught halfway through. Heathrow, as a major hub, has been particularly disrupted. London urged us to get the order canceled, but also questioned whether we had not been warned about it while Ms May was in the White House. We had learned something fundamental about the willful and willful nature of Mr. Trump.
We relearned this lesson regularly. In November 2017, for example, I woke up to learn that the US president had retweeted some Islamophobic music videos from Britain First, a far-right group. Ms May replied, in the slightest rebuke, that he was wrong to do so. Mr. Trump replied angrily, she should spend her time focusing on “the destructive radical Islamist terrorism unfolding in the UK”. Then the following year, we went to great lengths to organize a ‘special’ visit to the UK, including a gala dinner at Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace. Mr. Trump rewarded us by giving a interview to the Sun newspaper in which he said Ms May ignored his advice, destroyed Brexit and destroyed prospects for a UK-US trade deal.
Urged on by London, I would remonstrate with my contacts at the White House about these gratuitous attacks; of their inability to warn us; and, more generally, the absence of prior consultation on their major political decisions. I always had the same response: “Do you think either of us knew this was going to happen?” He portrayed the image of a man so obsessed with himself that he was unable to process the impact of his decisions on others, and so unruly that he broadcast them to the first person who listened to him. Sometimes it was a call to Fox News, sometimes just poking your head around the door to the White House media room.
For much of that time, Mr Johnson was Foreign Secretary and a frequent visitor to Washington. Politically, he was poles apart from Mr. Trump: a supporter of action on climate change, a liberal on immigration, a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. Yet he was also intrigued, I believe, by Mr. Trump’s rise to power, the dedication he inspired among supporters and his unwavering approach to the media. Mr Johnson also thought he could handle Mr Trump, build a much stronger relationship than Ms May and make domestic capital through his support for Brexit and a UK-US trade deal. .
These were reasonable goals. It is important that the British Prime Minister is close to the American President. But Mr Johnson never knowingly underestimates, and that led him to statements he didn’t need to make: affirming that Mr. Trump had “many, many, good qualities”, was “make America great again», And even suggesting that he was as good a candidate as Barack Obama for a Nobel Prize of Peace.
None of this looks great now, following the Capitol sacking. Unlike Ms May, the Johnson administration has also carefully avoided directly criticizing Mr Trump. He was silent when he told Democratic congressmen of color to “returnWhere they were from, and declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s handling of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Has this exclusion from our principles been beneficial for the United Kingdom? I guess it wouldn’t have ended well even if Mr. Trump had won the election. We might have struck a trade deal between the UK and the US, but at the cost of a massive increase in cheap US agricultural exports to the UK.
With Joe Biden, it started off better than some had expected, with Mr Johnson securing a spot early on his congratulatory appeal to the president-elect. But judging by what I’m hearing from Democratic friends, there will be a price to pay, somewhere on the trail, for our obsequiousness to Mr. Biden’s predecessor. They see German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s treatment of Mr Trump as the gold standard, and feel we have fallen short. “What were you thinking?” They say.
The lesson here? It makes good sense to be judicious, to carefully measure the words you use and to consider the consequences. But at the end of the day when the core values are called into question, you have to call it what you see.