Frontrunner to become PM accused of lack of leadership and called on to apologise
Boris Johnson has been heavily criticised by fellow Tory MPs over his role in Sir Kim Darroch’s decision to resign as the UK ambassador to Washington, with one backbencher saying the frontrunner in the Conservative leadershipcontest should come to the Commons to apologise, The Guardian reports.
An urgent question in the Commons about Darroch’s departure, which followed the leak of diplomatic cables critical of the Donald Trump White House, resulted in repeated condemnation of Johnson, and only one Conservative MP came to his defence.
The criticism of Johnson was based on his choice of language in a Conservative leadership debate on Tuesday, in which he refused to give Darroch his support, even as his leadership rival, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would expect the ambassador to stay in post until his planned retirement.
In a shock move that prompted the senior civil servant at the Foreign Office to call an all-staff meeting to reassure “shaken” diplomats, Darroch announced on Wednesday morning that he could no longer continue in his role following the leak.
Adding to the likely discomfort for Johnson, the Foreign Office minister sent out to speak for the government was Sir Alan Duncan, who on Wednesday accused him of throwing Darroch “under the bus”.
The most vehement criticism came from David Morris, the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, who condemned Johnson for failing to fully back Darroch after Trump insulted the ambassador in tweets and said he would no longer deal with him.
Darroch is understood to have made the decision to resign after watching Johnson repeatedly declining to offer his support in the debate.
“Do you not feel that it is incumbent on every member of parliament in this place to back up our excellent diplomats and civil servants, and the honourable member for Uxbridge should come to the house and apologise?” Morris asked.
Other Conservatives expressed similar views, with Roger Gale telling the Commons: “The failure of the former foreign secretary to leap to the defence of Sir Kim shows a lack of leadership that is lamentable.”
The Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, was less direct, but made his feelings known, saying the loss of Darroch following Trump’s comments amounted to the UK being bullied.
Tugendhat said the government should “always stand up for those we send abroad, military or civilian, and will back them to the point that is necessary in the interests of the British people, and no one else”
The only support for Johnson came from veteran Tory backbencher Peter Bone, who said: “The attacking of colleagues is completely wrong and people should be ashamed of themselves when they’ve done that.”
The urgent question was tabled by Labour’s Pat McFadden, who said the decision of Darroch to resign, despite having the full support of Theresa May and her cabinet, was “a dark moment for our democracy and for the standing of the United Kingdom”.
McFadden said Johnson’s lack of support for the envoy was “an appalling abandonment of someone in the firing line”. He added: “Real leaders protect their people, they don’t throw them to the wolves because they can sniff a prize for themselves. His actions are a chilling warning of what is to come if he becomes prime minister.”
Duncan said he would not be responding to such views on Johnson: “I hope the house will understand if I hold back today from making any further comment on the right honourable friend the member for Uxbridge. I said enough yesterday to make my position entirely clear.”
Duncan nonetheless managed to reiterate his condemnation of Johnson several times in ways varying from the oblique to the open.
Responding to one question, he replied: “It is everyone’s duty, and everyone in this house’s duty, to defend our ambassadors. They are our ambassadors doing our duty. If they do something terribly wrong or break all the rules, that’s altogether different.”
Duncan later drew laughter after the Lib Dem deputy leader, Jo Swinson, cited his description of Johnson’s actions as “the behaviour of an utter wimp”.
“I seem to recall that was one of the kinder words I used yesterday,” Duncan told MPs, adding: “I think what I would rather do is concentrate on the specific details of the question put, the merits of Sir Kim Darroch rather than the … merits of anyone else.”