So, does it matter that one of our top Ambassador’s has to resign because of a leaked confidential assessment of Donald Trump and the current US government?
Yes – it most certainly does, and it is enormously damaging and not just because President Trump doesn’t take kindly to criticism.
It matters because Ambassadors are expected, indeed instructed, to give hard headed assessments of the country they serve in. Imagine how difficult it would be for any British government to assess the situation in other countries if Ambassadors were afraid of speaking out. And think of the implications for British citizens if they cannot rely on their views being kept strictly confidential. For example if a country and its leader were becoming corrupt and dictatorial and the Ambassador reports that but it is leaked then it is not just the British staff in the Embassy who are at risk but any British people there on holiday or for business can be picked up and used as a warning to the Government here. There are plenty of examples of such behaviour and it is not just citizens of Britain who have suffered from such problems.
There is another very worrying aspect to this story and it says a lot about the current state of British politics. Whoever leaked that confidential memo had a political agenda and a Special Adviser to a Minister (they are appointed by Ministers and have a party political loyalty to that ministers Party) has to be one of several possibilities. The police are now investigating.
So, what is that political agenda? A sub plot to the BREXIT debate is the struggle between those who want us to be part of Europe and those who would rather see us more closely linked to the English speaking world – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US. This has always been something of a fault line in British politics when it comes to membership of the EU. The BREXITEERS believe that our future lies in the wider world while Remainers have always seen our future in Europe. The two are not mutually exclusive in my view but Donald Trump and Boris Johnson (and Nigel Farage) have a joint agenda here and it is to take Britain away from its attachment to the EU and create what they see as a more independent UK with close links to the US and Commonwealth.
These two views of our future reflect the way Britain, following the industrial revolution, became the 19th century superpower and saw itself as ‘different’ to the rest of Europe – remember the alleged famous headline from the early 20th century – ‘Fog in the Channel – Continent isolated’. Well, whether there ever was such a headline is questionable but the attitude it reflected was real enough and it is still around today.
My view is that Britain needs the EU and the EU needs Britain. Our shared history shows that we can never be entirely separate from each other. But it is also true that many British people maintain close links with Commonwealth countries and especially the English speaking ones. And there are many Commonwealth countries that have English as one of their main languages. English is an official language of India for example. In the last year immigration from non EU countries has overtaken immigration from the EU which might be a painful lesson for those who believe that we can manage in the modern world without people having international mobility.
This struggle for the future of British identity and our role in the world is not going to be resolved quickly. Clearly President Trump wants Britain to be out of the EU and he seem to want a closer relationship between the English-speaking countries, but I am far from sure how stable his views are and how well thought through they are.
Alternatively Britain could become a central part of the emerging superstate of Europe – it will take a long time for that to happen but once you have a single market and a single currency it is only a matter of time before you have a single Chancellor of the Exchequer and a stronger central bank. That is the process taking place in Europe before our eyes. We are attempting to opt out. We can do so but we had better make sure we are not cut out of EU markets (the largest and richest market in the world) and we had better make sure that the rest of the world and Donald Trumps vision is not a chimera.
By Lord Soley of Hammersmith