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Sorry, President-Elect Trump, But You Don’t Get To Choose Britain’s Ambassador To The United States

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It was wrong when President Obama sought to interfere in Britain’s EU referendum debate earlier this year, and it is wrong now when President-elect Trump tries to undermine the UK government and install his pal Nigel Farage as a replacement British ambassador

When Barack Obama saw fit to fly to London, stand next to David Cameron at a joint press conference and lecture/threaten the British people that voting to leave the EU would incur not only his personal wrath but also America’s cold shoulder, his behaviour was rightly denounced as an act of arrogant bullying and coercion.

This blog wasted no time in taking President Obama to task for his ignorance and presumption in daring to interfere with our domestic affairs. And UKIP leader and referendum-maker Nigel Farage was also quick to criticise Obama, noting “last time we followed foreign policy advice from a US President was when we went to war in Iraq. We should be wary“, and negatively comparing the American president to Vladimir Putin.

Unfortunately, Nigel Farage does not seem to be consistent when it comes to the principle of staying out of the internal affairs of other countries. Because now his good friend and campaign trail buddy, US president-elect Donald Trump, has made the highly irregular move of suggesting that Farage should become the UK’s ambassador to the United States – even though we currently have an ambassador in place (albeit not a very good one):

The Guardian reports:

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, has suggested that the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, should be the UK’s ambassador to the US.

“Many people would like to see [@Nigel_Farage] represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States,” Trump tweeted on Monday evening. “He would do a great job!”

In a brief call with BBC Breakfast, Farage said he had been awake since 2am UK time when the tweet was first posted.

The Ukip leader said he was flattered by the tweet, calling it “a bolt from the blue” and said he did not see himself as a typical diplomatic figure “but this is not the normal course of events”.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the US.”

Now Donald Trump is known to tweet strange and provocative things as and when they drift into his head, but the probability of him having penned this particular tweet without having first at least run it past Nigel Farage (and more likely Trump was acting on a specific request as a favour to Farage) is close to zero. So there goes Farage’s principled opposition to meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation – he likely encouraged the president-elect of the United States to do what he criticised Barack Obama for back in April.

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon also spots the hypocrisy:

When Barack Obama said he hoped Britain would stay in the EU, Nigel Farage was appalled. An American president, he said, had no right to meddle in British affairs. Britain was quite capable of making her own decisions, thank you very much. The president, in short, should “butt out”.

Today, however, Mr Farage appears rather more relaxed about political interference from across the pond. When Donald Trump told Britain she should make the on-off Ukip leader her ambassador to the US – even though she already has one – Mr Farage was not appalled. He did not say Mr Trump had “behaved disgracefully”, he did not order him to “butt out”, he did not remind him that the British don’t take kindly to being told “what we should do” by foreign powers.

On the contrary, he welcomed Mr Trump’s intervention. “I would do anything,” he said nobly, “to help our national interest.”

Taking back control from Brussels. And then handing it to Washington.

This episode also shows seriously bad judgement on the part of Donald Trump, though this of course is much less surprising. If offending the UK foreign office by airily suggesting on Twitter that the British ambassador should be replaced is the biggest diplomatic howler committed by the incoming Trump administration then we will be able to count ourselves extraordinarily lucky. Even assuming that Trump assembles a moderately experienced team around him by the end of the transition, the incoming president’s penchant for going off-script and acting unilaterally at 2AM is likely to lead to all manner of gaffes and calamities. But still – offending the government of your closest ally by publicly scorning their present ambassador is arrogant and foolish.

Adam Barnett at Left Foot Forward also has a crack at explaining why Nigel Farage becoming Britain’s ambassador to the United States would be a terrible idea:

Nigel Farage would make a great British ambassador to the US, according to Donald Trump, who will make a terrible President of the United States.

As Downing Street helpfully points out, the position is already filled, though they should have added it’s not Trump’s job to appoint foreign diplomats.

Unfortunately, not one of the reasons that Barnett then goes on to list has anything remotely to do with Nigel Farage’s competence or potential suitability for the role of ambassador. Rather, each is a finger-wagging, morally censorious (and often inaccurate) judgement and demand for Farage’s excommunication from any role in public life, the kind of thoughtless attack sadly now typical fare from the authoritarian, illiberal left.

The Spectator’s James Forsyth does a better job of explaining why Nigel Farage should be nobody’s choice for the role of ambassador, and suggests a better way for the British government to leverage Farage’s close relationship with Trump:

Now, obviously, Farage shouldn’t be the UK’s man in Washington. As Farage has admitted, he’s not a natural diplomat and it is hard to imagine Theresa May trusting him in that role. But it would be foolish of the Foreign Office not to pump Farage for information on Trump and his circle. Whatever information Farage has about who actually has influence with the president-elect would be useful for Britain.

The sensible thing to do would be to have Boris Johnson invite Farage down to Chevening for the weekend and over dinner try and talk out of the Ukip leader everything he knows about Trump world. I suspect that Farage would be both sufficiently flattered by the invitation and keen enough to help, that he would happily reveal all he knows about Trump and the people around him.

This sounds a lot more sensible. Nigel Farage should not become our ambassador, not least because he has no discernable diplomatic skills, nor any specific interest in that role (besides a desire to remain in the limelight and close to power). But the British government would be foolish to squander the relationship he has built with the new president-elect altogether.

After all, who is best placed to nurture that relationship? A bunch of effete, elitist UK civil servants and career diplomats like our current ambassador Sir Kim Darroch, who were all doubtless super-confident “Never Trump” people (as indeed I was) and therefore failed to build any meaningful relationships with the Trump team, or somebody whom the new president considers to be an ideological and perhaps even temperamental soulmate?

In other words, why reinvent the wheel? Why pour time and effort into leveraging a new relationship from scratch when Trump and Farage are clearly already friends and allies? Britain should not waste time emulating this relationship – we should appropriate it and use it for our own ends. Love him or loathe him, Nigel Farage happens to speak Trumpian with a natural accent at a time when we have few other native linguists. That isn’t an advantage you throw away just to express general disapproval of the man.

Now, of course Nigel Frage is a flawed individual – and one can argue about the precise way in which the government puts him to use. Rather than making him ambassador, I would forge a new role, perhaps investigating the possibility of formally seconding Farage to the Trump administration as a gesture of trust and goodwill. Not only would this give Britain valuable eyes and ears in Washington DC, it could greatly aid the future negotiation of a future US-UK free trade agreement.

The details can be worked out later, but one thing is crystal clear for now – Donald Trump has no business interfering in the diplomatic staffing decisions of the British government. The ambassadors we send to Washington D.C. should be chosen by the British government alone, not foisted upon us by an inexperienced not-quite-president.

Donald Trump claims to have great affection for Britain, which is good. But he needs to learn that the best way to display that affection is to respect British sovereignty. If the president-elect insists on appointing his kids as White House advisers and can find his way around the federal anti-nepotism rules, that’s one thing. But we can pick our own ambassadors, thank you, Mr. President-elect.

 

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One response

  1. I didn’t envy the US electorate the choice they had to hand this year – although I did agree with Hitchens in that possibly this year, American voters might consider themselves under an obligation to withhold their votes so as not to accept the compulsory endorsement of dumb or dumber.

    However, Trump IS a clown. And by that I don’t mean he’s stupid. I often think that the best comedians make the best serious actors. They know how to pull on emotional levers. It can’t be denied that Trump has been a massively successful businessman – so, not stupid, but still a clown.

    Clowns know when and how to perform, and how to get the audience. They are specialist attention-seekers. It’s possible that this Trump\Farage affair is aimed at an entirely difference audience.

    Is it possible he’s speaking to the collective of the EU?

    Like

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