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Johnson evades question on British ambassador to US, as Hunt pledges to keep him

Hunt said that Donald Trump’s comments on Theresa May were “disrespectful and wrong”.

Updated Jul 9th 2019, 9:05 PM

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FOREIGN SECRETARY JEREMY Hunt has weighed in on the diplomatic row brewing between the US and the UK and called the US President’s comments about British Prime Minister Theresa May and the UK “disrespectful and wrong”. 

Boris Johnson, Hunt’s opponent in the race to become British Prime Minister, dodged the question during a live debate on ITV this evening, and emphasised the importance of the US-UK relationship.

Earlier today, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his previous public criticism of the British ambassador to the US Kim Darroch, calling him “a very stupid guy”. 

In a series of tweets today, Trump railed against the UK’s representative after the release of confidential correspondence from ambassador Darroch, which described Trump as “inept” and his White House as “uniquely dysfunctional”.

The wacky Ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy.

“He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled”. 

London has been scrambling to stem the damage caused by the release of the correspondence last week. 

Hunt and Johnson

Johnson Hunt Source: ITV

Responding to the criticism directly, Foreign Secretary Hunt tweeted at the president:

Friends speak frankly so I will: these comments are disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country. Your diplomats give their private opinions to Secretary Mike Pompeo and so do ours!
You said the UK-US alliance was the greatest in history and I agree but allies need to treat each other with respect as Theresa May has always done with you. Ambassadors are appointed by the UK government and if I become Prime Minister, our ambassador stays.

In a televised debate on ITV tonight, Johnson and Hunt were both asked to respond to the criticism from the US president, and whether they would keep Darroch in situ if they became Prime Minister.

Former Foreign Secretary Johnson evaded the question, and emphasised his relationship with the US: “I have a very good relationship with the White House, and it’s very important that we have a close relationship with the US.”

He said that Trump had been “dragged into a British political debate, which is what sometimes happens”.

He also added that the advice of civil servants “should not be leaked or commented on by ministers” if civil servants are to feel confident in carrying out their duties, adding that “whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated”.

Hunt agreed that the alliance between the UK and the USA was important, but said that:

Who chooses our ambassadors is a matter for the UK government. If I am Prime Minister, the ambassador stays because it’s our decision.

When Johnson asked Hunt would he keep Darroch in place until he retires in December, Hunt said he would; while Johnson wouldn’t answer that same question, saying “I wouldn’t be so presumptuous”.

Other reaction

The British prime minister’s office, meanwhile, has called the leak “unacceptable” but also defended the work of ambassadors in providing “honest, unvarnished assessments of politics in their country.”

“The prime minister has full faith in her ambassador to Washington,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Trump has also further criticised May today and her handling of the Brexit negotiations with the EU. 

“I told @theresa_may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!”

“I don’t know the Ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool. Tell him the USA now has the best Economy & Military anywhere in the World, by far…and they are both only getting bigger, better and stronger… Thank you, Mr. President!”

- with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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