Trump Twitter outburst tests US-UK ‘special relationship’

US President Donald Trump recently met with British Prime Minister Theresa May during the former’s state visit in the UK. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

Trump Twitter outburst tests US-UK ‘special relationship’

  • Publication of Ambassador Kim Darroch’s confidential cables set off a furious Trump Twitter storm
  • The “special relationship” term has always been more widely used in Britain than it has in the US

LONDON: Donald Trump’s refusal to deal with the UK ambassador following the leak of his frank assessment of the US president’s chaotic rule raises a big question: can the countries’ much-vaunted “special relationship” survive?
The Mail on Sunday’s publication of Ambassador Kim Darroch’s confidential cables set off a furious Trump Twitter storm.
Darroch had called Trump “inept” and his administration “uniquely dysfunctional.”
Trump tweeted back that Darroch “is not liked or well thought of within the US We will no longer deal with him.” He also welcomed the “good news” that Prime Minister Theresa May was stepping down in two weeks.
All of which creates another headache for UK politicians during a tumultuous period in which they must decide how — or even if — Britain will leave the EU on October 31.
The hunt is on for the culprit and the “whodunnit” theories are flying.
Most concern the nuanced politics at play in the UK leadership fight between Brexit-backing former London mayor Boris Johnson and underdog Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
One popular theory says the leak was aimed not at Darroch but at the person who is due to replace him in January.
The senior official tipped for the plum US assignment holds pro-European views that upset most Brexiteers.
This would suggest that the culprit was trying to make sure Johnson — seemingly assured of May’s office — settles on someone else.
But the leak has also damaged Britain’s foreign standing and some talk is focused on how much an old rival like Russian President Vladimir Putin stands to gain.
“Of course it would be massively concerning if it was the act of a foreign, hostile state,” Hunt told The Sun.
UK politicians of all stripes have rallied behind the embattled ambassador and bristled at the tought of Trump simply shoving their man out of Washington.
Whether Darroch can still perform his duties depends on what Trump actually meant in his tweets.
Darroch has already been taken off one White House dinner guest list.
But the UK envoy will be more concerned about maintaining his private contacts and talking to people in Trump’s inner sanctum.
If Trump means “the whole White House staff is closed to you, including the national security adviser, that would be much more serious,” Britain’s former US envoy Christopher Meyer said.
UK diplomats worry that the publication of what Downing Street described as Darroch’s “unvarnished” views will put off others from reporting similarly delicate matters.
“The damage is to the confidence of civil servants to put their frank thoughts to ministers,” the Foreign Office’s former permanent under-secretary, Peter Ricketts, wrote in The Guardian.
Ricketts also expressed worry that “Britain’s reputation as a country that knows how to keep its secrets” might be hurt.
Hunt agreed that it was “very important” that UK ambassadors all over “continue to give us their frank assessments.”
The scandal piles on the pressure for Johnson, Britain’s presumptive premier, to either bow to Trump’s pressure or stick by London’s envoy.
“For Boris Johnson, removing Darroch swiftly from office would be seen as a humiliating cave-in to a bullying foreign power,” the Politico news site wrote.
“But voicing support for the beleaguered ambassador risks damaging relations with Trump from the outset.”
The choice is made all the more important by the next ambassador’s role in negotiating a new US trade agreement that can mitigate the potential damage of Britain’s split from the EU.
The “special relationship” term has always been more widely used in Britain than it has in the United States, a superpower that also enjoys “special” ties with countries such as Israel and Canada.
But London provides Washington with a vital and reliable European ally that has been by its side through two world wars.
The sides rely on each other for intelligence and share the same global security vision that has spanned decades and which is almost certain to last.
“The relationship with Washington is based on strong and deep shared interests,” former under-secretary Ricketts wrote.
“Those are unchanged by the leaks.”


Sweden discontinues Assange rape investigation

Updated 59 min 4 sec ago

Sweden discontinues Assange rape investigation

  • The case was being dropped because “the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question.”

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Tuesday dropped its investigation into an alleged rape by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently in prison in Britain.
Assange, who is battling extradition to the United States which accuses him of publishing secret documents related to his WikiLeaks work, has been facing potential charges in Sweden since 2010. The 48-year-old has denied all allegations against him.
Prosecutor Eve-Marie Persson said the case was being dropped because “the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question.”
She said the alleged victim, who accused Assange of raping her in 2010, “submitted a credible and reliable version of events.”
“Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed,” Persson said. 
The decision follows a ruling in June by a Swedish court that Assange should not be detained. Two months earlier, Assange was evicted from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he had been holed up since 2012. He was immediately arrested and is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, said in a tweet that the focus should now move onto the “threat” that Assange has been “warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment.”
Assange has been battling potential charges in Sweden since August 2010, when an investigation began after two women accused Assange of sexual offenses during a visit to Stockholm. Sweden asked Britain to extradite Assange for questioning, and in June 2012 he sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid arrest. That was granted two months later.
After that, the investigation stalled. Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out in 2015, leaving only the rape allegation.
While denying the sexual misconduct allegations in Sweden, he sought asylum for protection from possible extradition to the US on charges.
Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum status in April 2019. Assange was arrested by British police and sentenced in May to 50 weeks in prison for jumping bail in 2012. He remains in prison after authorities ruled he was a flight risk and faces an extradition hearing next year to the US to face spying charges