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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Gibraltar Brexit Fears Are False, But Remainers Are Right: Our Foreign Policy Clout Has Atrophied Within The EU

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The government’s case for remaining in the European Union is based on an unedifying, unpatriotic and false misrepresentation of Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability as an independent country. But there is a small, disturbing element of truth to the Foreign Office’s scaremongering claims

One theme which has emerged consistently throughout the EU referendum debate is the degree to which the British government’s ability to conduct an independent economic, trade and foreign policy has atrophied through over-reliance on the European Union to manage our affairs.

This is primarily seen in the debate on trade – the future lies with the slowly emerging and hugely promising global single market, but on this most critical of issues, Britain has simply outsourced our own decision-making ability by vesting it in the EU.

To prosper in this globalised world, Britain should be exercising our full influence on key global bodies such as UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, the ILO, IMO and others, but since we allow the European Union to speak for us and interpret rules made by these bodies on our behalf, Britain’s ability to argue our own national interest has gradually withered through lack of practice.

We see the same corrosive forces at work in foreign policy. Nearly every pro-Remain intervention made by the hapless Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has served to reveal not only his own incompetence in the role, but also the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s growing inability to robustly defend British interests outside the context of being an EU member state.

The latest example:

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has angered Brexit campaigners by claiming a vote to leave the European Union would put British sovereignty over Gibraltar at risk.

His shocking comments came in a joint warning with Gibraltar’s chief minister today, which has led to accusations of scaremongering from the out campaign.

The Rock’s Fabian Picardo even said the prospect of Spain wrestling back at least partial control of the Mediterranean island would be “back on the table” if the UK opts to leave the Brussels union next month.

His stark warning risks being seen as another example of the pro-EU camp’s Project Fear and comes as Mr Hammond visits Gibraltar to discuss security threats to the British Overseas Territory.

On his first official visit to the Rock since taking up the post in 2014, the Foreign Secretary said: “I genuinely believe that the threat of leaving the European Union is as big a threat to Gibraltar’s future security and Gibraltar’s future sovereignty as the more traditional threats that we routinely talk about.”

As is always the case with those on the Remain side, Hammond speaks as though Britain is entirely without agency, a passive blob to be moulded and shaped by outside forces rather than a powerful global player in our own right.

And yet there is some truth in Hammond’s pessimism. Having acted primarily through the European Union for so long, and with the EU’s Federica Mogherini a better known voice on the world stage than our own Foreign Secretary, it could almost be the case that Britain’s ability to wield our clout and influence on the world stage has atrophied to such an extent that the FCO is genuinely no longer capable of preventing foreign interference with a British Overseas Territory.

This is what the EU does. This is the modus operandi of Brussels – gradually assuming more and more of the day-to-day governing from national governments, until one day, quite unexpectedly, the national layer of government finds that it no longer has the technical capability or willpower to function on its own. But the answer is not to throw our hands up in acceptance of this state of affairs, or play the hopeless part of an insect stuck in a Venus flytrap. The answer is to extricate ourselves, and re-learn those skills and competencies which we shamefully allowed to lapse during our failed flirtation with supra-national government.

Pete North puts it best:

George Osborne has said of Brexit re-negotiations: “If we leave EU, the House of Commons is going to be doing nothing else for many, many years”. He’s right. The government will have to govern. It’s going to take years to undo the damage. We are going to take years rebuilding our domestic expertise and design new policy. The whole Whitehall establishment will have to be re-ordered and redesigned. The Foreign Office will have to get busy doing what they should have been doing for the last forty years.

We are going to have to have serious debates about fisheries management. We are going to have to rethink our rural policy. We are going to have to take a very close look at our energy policy. We will need a serious debate about foreign aid, immigration and trade. We are going to have to rethink the way we do nearly everything. Leaving the EU means rebuilding our capacity for self-government and we will have to muddle through that process, kicking out the failures as we go.

What it does mean is that we are not bound by EU directives and targets which means we are free to innovate in policy making – which means we may actually see some change because ministers are then responsible. The buck stops with them rather than idly shrugging their shoulders and saying “the EU made me do it”.

And furthermore, as this blog pointed out the last time our Foreign Secretary decided to be a spokesperson for Brussels instead of his own country:

If Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe.

Is the European Union a cuddly, benign club of countries coming together to trade peaceably, or a snarling mob waiting to inflict “punishment beatings” and infringe on our sovereign territory if we cross them?

It’s about time that Remainers made up their minds.

 

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Philip Hammond’s Weak Diplomacy And Our Friends In The European Union

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If the Foreign Secretary sincerely believes that other member states would punish us for leaving the European Union, he hasn’t been doing his job cultivating strong diplomatic relationships and standing up for Britain

Alan Johnson and Philip Hammond both clearly attend the same branch meeting of the Dewy-Eyed European Union Cheerleaders Association, because both politicians – one Labour and one Conservative – are both now peddling the same pathetic line to the media, namely the suggestion that Britain amicably leaving the European Union would be like “sticking two fingers up” at our allies and inviting some form of deserved retribution in return.

Alan Johnson writes in MailOnline:

In terms of our own borders, Britain is actually in the best possible position – in the EU, signed up to the Dublin Accord but outside Schengen.

Thus economic migrants have to register in the EU country where they first arrive (thousands have been deported from Britain in the past 20 years for breaching this requirement), and a visa is still required for anyone outside the EU to enter this country.

Furthermore, it was because Britain was part of the EU that David Blunkett was able to persuade Nicolas Sarkozy to, in effect, move Britain’s border from Dover to Calais.

If Britain put two fingers up to the 27 other nations in the EU the first reaction of the French would undoubtedly be to end that arrangement, thereby ending the security barrier that that arrangement offers us.

This was tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when the same idea was advanced by Conservative MP Mark Field, and it is tremulous, scaremongering nonsense when it comes out of the mouth of Alan Johnson, too, having been comprehensively refuted and debunked by many people, not least on this very blog.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond – who one might have expected to know and conduct himself better, given the fact that he currently serves as Foreign Secretary – echoed the same cheap catchphrase to MPs in Parliament.

The Telegraph reports:

The Foreign Secretary has told MPs a leave vote the EU would be seen as “two fingers to European leaders and we can expect the same in return.”

He says that if Britain votes to leave the EU “the mood of goodwill towards Britain will evaporate in an instant”.

This is essentially an admission of incompetence by the Foreign Secretary. What Hammond is suggesting to us with this cheap attempt at scaremongering is that he has so mismanaged our relationships with key European allies, and so misled them as to the nature of British public sentiment toward the EU and the consequent possibility of Brexit, that our perfectly amicable and controlled departure would come as a complete shock to them.

Furthermore, if Hammond’s words are to be taken seriously, it means that he has presided over the worst diplomatic failure in recent British history – namely the failure of a declared nuclear power, as well as a leading military, economic and cultural power, to command such respect on the world stage as might survive us leaving a supranational arrangement which we no longer believe works in our favour. Is that really what the Foreign Secretary wants to tell the British people?

Europhiles and Remainers can’t decide whether Brussels is friend or frenemy; whether the other EU member states are dear friends who would be sorry to see us go, or bitter rivals who would seek to punish Britain for rejecting their vision of a politically unified Europe. And it is about time they made up their minds.

As this blog recently pointed out:

Of course, the cynical pro-EU “Remain” campaign tries to have it both ways. When it suits them in their campaigning, the EU is a happy-go-lucky club of like-minded countries who frolic and trade with one another. But when that hopelessly naive, childlike view of Brussels is questioned by eurosceptics and Brexiteers, out comes the other portrait of a snarling, vicious EU which will ruthlessly destroy Britain if we continue to drag our feet or think about leaving.

Good cop, bad cop. Europhiles will normally try the “good cop” routine first when engaging with undecided voters. But this tends to come unstuck as soon as eurosceptics and Brexiteers counter with their own positive vision of Britain restored as a sovereign democracy playing a full and engaged role in global trade and world affairs.

Since the pro-EU crowd are unable to share their own repugnant vision of a politically integrated Europe for fear of scaring people away, they are instead forced to go negative, hence the rapid and disconcerting pivot from “See how nice the European Union is, and all the wonderful things it does for us” to “If we try to leave the EU, they’ll rough us up”. Truly, their position is less a serious argument about governance and diplomacy, and more the tortured thought process of a battered spouse trying to rationalise staying in an abusive relationship.

In many ways, it is unsurprising that there is so much confusion over what would likely happen in the event that Britain declared our intention to leave the EU following a “Leave” vote in the referendum. Few journalists have taken the time to assimilate the information and share it with their readers, which then positively begs unscrupulous Remainers like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson to exploit the public’s fear and ignorance.

The excellent Brexit blogger Ben Kelly lays the groundwork – and demolishes a lot of misconceptions on both sides of the debate – in this piece at Conservatives for Liberty, well worth quoting at length:

Negotiations undertaken after citation of the withdrawal clause of the Lisbon Treaty will be a matter of practical politics. Although the application of EU and international law is not a settled issue, especially in this as yet untested area, the notion that the EU would refuse to cooperate, or even seek to “punish” the UK in the event of secession – thereby clearly violating EU law as well as failing to comply with international law – is beyond the realm of realistic politics.

Although Article 50 negotiations conducted under a framework of treaty law will be first and foremost a political matter, it is clear that lawyers will be consulted regarding the laws application. What we can be certain of is that – as Sir David Edward, the first British Judge of the European Court, has said – EU law requires all parties to negotiate in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation.

Article 50 requires the EU to conclude an agreement with the seceding state, “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union“. Notably, Articles 3,4 8 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union require the EU to “contribute to … free and fair trade” and to “work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to … encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade” and to adhere to the “principle of sincere cooperation […] in full mutual respect” and “assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.”

Moreover, the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties obligates negotiators to act in “good faith” and “good faith” itself is an underlying principle of international law, and certainly a principle of WTO law.

The EU negotiators must therefore endeavour to reduce trade restrictions in accordance with treaty provisions and, crucially, their actions are justiciable. If EU negotiators were to veer away from treaty provisions, or indeed if any other EU member sought to impose sanctions or restrict trade, the UK could opt to lodge a formal complaint with the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and block the discriminatory action.

It must be remembered that during the Article 50 negotiations the UK remains a member of the EU and enjoys the full rights and privileges of membership. The Commission itself may be legally obliged to step in and begin infringement proceedings against the offending member state.

It may amuse lazy political commentators to paint the hypothetical future Brexit negotiations as some kind of zero-sum game, trial of strength or fiendishly complex case study in Game Theory, but this would simply not be the case. The truth would be altogether more boring and pragmatic than the europhile naysayers would have us believe, with both sides obligated to negotiate with one another in good faith.

Kelly is right to eschew the tub-thumping “they need us more than we need them!” kind of language as he builds his case, but nonetheless it is worth pointing out that in the event of Brexit negotiations being initiated, all national governments would come under huge and sustained pressure by their local business leaders and lobbyists to avoid taking any retaliatory or counter-retaliatory action which might lead to the throwing up of onerous new barriers to trade.

Given the amount of money and reputational capital that many multinational companies are willing to spend lobbying and campaigning for a “Remain” vote, it is not unreasonable that they would make equally strong representations to the British and EU member state governments to ensure a smooth and orderly Brexit – one which this blog firmly believes is best accomplished by following a fully worked-through plan like Flexcit, in which we would minimise economic disruption from leaving the EU’s political union by maintaining our EFTA and EEA membership.

Those people on the Remain side who seek to dumb down the argument and reduce the nuanced situation of Article 50 Brexit negotiations to a cartoonish “sticking two fingers up at Europe” / “get punished by France and Germany in response” are being deliberately misleading in attempt to distract from the paucity of their case. But worse than that, they are also subscribing to the fatalistic, anti-British mindset which states that our country – the fifth largest economy and one of the most consequential actors on the world stage – is actually nothing more than a minor, third-rate country, easily bullied by its peers.

But remember: by peddling this nonsense, EU apologists like Philip Hammond and Alan Johnson are not merely demonstrating their lack of faith in Britain (particularly concerning coming from a Foreign Secretary). They also reveal their lack of respect for the intelligence of their fellow citizens, whom they lazily assume can be swayed and manipulated by their base scaremongering and dark warnings of EU reprisals.

 

British Foreign Secretary Hammond attends a news conference in Riyadh

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