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The Great Trump Dilemma - what next in this diplomatic fiasco?

'Astonishingly - we are staring at a full-blown diplomatic crisis between the UK and the US'. Credit: PA

Just a month ago, in the eyes of the embattled British ambassador to the US, Britain had “dazzled” the erratic and narcissistic President.

Against the odds, by deploying its brilliant diplomatic service, and the magic of the Royal Family, the State Visit had secured the UK a special place in President Trump's soul - and in his White House.

The Great Rupture of Brexit would be eased by the Great Rebirth of the Special Relationship.

That was the theory.

And yet, a few weeks later - astonishingly - we are staring at a full-blown diplomatic crisis between the UK and the US. What times we live in. The most deeply entrenched and stable bilateral relationship in the world is in jeopardy.

Those twin tweets late yesterday by President Trump - in which he criticized May's Brexit plans and vowed not to deal with Sir Kim Darroch - were brutal.
Think of it this way: The Ambassador of America's closest ally is being run out of town. The crime? Candour.

Kim Darroch, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States. Credit: PA

Sir Kim Darroch’s position is now untenable. But that doesn't mean he will be ordered home. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both expressed their confidence in him - even as they distance themselves from his assessment of a dysfunctional and unpredictable White House. (Of course, Trump's very actions in this affair vindicate Sir Kim's analysis, one of many ironies here).

Downing Street cannot be seen to meekly submit to the President’s anger.

We get to choose our Ambassador, not the host nation. President Trump has contempt for weakness, and withdrawing Darroch would not gain Britain status in the White House, just make us look feeble.

And yet if he stays, meaningful access to the Administration will be denied.

Last night, Sir Kim was already being frozen out. Humiliatingly, he was disinvited from a White House dinner in honour of the Emir of Qatar.

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So that is one dilemma for Downing Street - pulling Darroch out and letting him stay are both terrible options. And there is another trap already in place for Theresa May's successor. Let's assume it is Boris Johnson. Who does he appoint to be the next Ambassador?

Does he opt for a career diplomat and civil servant, perhaps Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, who is the widely tipped successor? That would uphold the tradition of professionalism in Britain's diplomatic service.

But it is unlikely Trump would respect an establishment figure like Sir Mark either. Problem not solved.

So does Boris Johnson find a Brexit-supporting politician and make him or her the ambassador? Perhaps even Nigel Farage, a move that would generate howls of outrage across Whitehall and give the Foreign Office an institutional cardiac arrest.

So does Boris Johnson find a Brexit-supporting politician and make him or her the ambassador? Credit: PA

Yes, it would give Britain a unique place within the White House. But there is a problem here too.

Appointing a Brexiteer is a bet on Trump winning a second term. If a Democrat wins in November 2020, the new President will view the UK as a diminished and weakened country. And a President Biden, or Harris, or Buttigieg, will look at a Brexit-cheering Ambassador and see not a natural ally, but the eccentric envoy of a nation that caved in when Trump played the role of bully.

So the in-tray of Britain's next Prime Minister has just become a whole lot more complicated.

Boris Johnson has said that he wants Brussels "to look into his eyes" and see that he's not joking about a No Deal Brexit. Now Washington will be another capital looking hard into those eyes and judging whether Britain's next leader can be pushed around.