Darroch leak: UK democracy in peril

Comments made by the Sir Kim Darroch, the British Ambassador to the US, on the Trump administration have been leaked to pro-Brexit journalist Isabel Oakshott, with key Brexiteers exploiting them to attack the civil service and diplomatic corps and call for the removal of non-Brexit-supporting civil servants. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato calls out these attempts to undermine the UK’s impartial democratic institutions.

Sir Kim Darroch meeting with the then US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
Sir Kim Darroch meeting with the then US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sir Kim Darroch (centre) meeting with the then US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson (left) in 2016.

Molly Scott Cato

Standards of political life are descending so rapidly that it is hard to see the Darroch affair in perspective. But it is clear this is just another episode in the ongoing attack on the safeguards of a free society and a functional democracy.

The British Ambassador to Washington reported the widely accepted fact that the Trump White House is dysfunctional and incompetent. He would have been derelict in his duty had he not reported that to the government of one of the US’ closest allies.

It is, for example, vital that the defence secretary knows this if he is approached to join the US in a foreign adventure, or for the trade secretary to be wary before we are forced to seek a new trading relationship after Brexit. So the suggestion that Sir Kim Darroch is in any way vulnerable or compromised by the leak of his secret telegrams is a rejection of the process and purpose of diplomacy.

So what’s going on here?

Let’s start with the source of the leak. Isabel Oakeshott has long been the favourite ‘journalist’ of the Bad Boys of Brexit. She began by co-authoring Call Me Dave with Michael Ashcroft, the book that was used to destroy Cameron’s reputation based on tabloid standards of information. With another step down the ladder she was the ghost-writer of Arron Banks’s Bad Boys of Brexit, a book of political propaganda and narcissism. Her failure to release information about Banks’ links with Russia identify her not as a journalist but as a tool for the pro-Brexit conspirators.

The purpose of this conspiracy becomes obvious when we look at the tweets Oakeshott sent in response to the interview Nigel Farage gave to the BBC Radio Four Today programme this morning. She quoted Farage who said in the interview that if Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, "people like" Sir Kim should "not be around". This ominous and threatening comment challenges the requirement of politicians to defend our diplomats. It also serves as a warning to see off those who would wish to serve their country in diplomatic roles, suggesting those who do will receive little protection or support.

Her second tweet of the day developed the narrative further: “Too many civil servants rubbishing Brexit – that's why the #washingtonfiles leak happened”. This plays into another key part of the Brexit political strategy – to politicise the institutions that need to be objective, impartial and trusted for our democracy to function well.

Here are two deliberate attempts to mislead. First, Darroch did not criticise Brexit, he criticised the functioning of the Trump White House. Second, civil service impartiality is about not favouring one political party over another. If Brexit is an economic, diplomatic and social disaster they are quite at liberty, if not bound by the code of ethics, to warn the country and its politicians that this is the case.

The government inquiry into the leak of emails must investigate how and why these ended up in the hands of key Farage ally Isabel Oakeshott. It should go further and explore the links between key Brexit actors and foreign powers.

Our country is in great peril. The propaganda from the cheerleaders of Brexit, magnified by the tabloid press, and now, tragically, also by the BBC, is distorting the understanding of many voters about where the best interests of their country lie and who is protecting them.

As John Crace tweeted about the Darroch affair: “Not quite sure why UK ambassador to US passing on accurate confidential information to his employers is a story. Shouldn’t Mail on Sunday be more horrified that someone leaked this to @IsabelOakeshott.”

With a government divided, an opposition distracted, and the BBC subverted, the Bad Boys of Brexit are on the rampage. At home this has led to a loss of some of the key safeguards of democracy. Abroad it has led to humiliation and a descent of our national standing.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West and coordinator of the Bad Boys of Brexit website.