If Sir Kim Darroch was sitting in the magnificent British Residence on Massachusetts Avenue watching the ITV Debate, it will have been a surreal moment.
His ultimate boss, the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, made a stirring defence of the Ambassador, criticised President Trump’s petty insults, and made clear that Britain would defend its right to decide which diplomats are put in key posts overseas.
But then came Boris’ strange non-answer about Darroch’s immediate future. He hesitated and squirmed. The implication is that a Johnson premiership would see Darroch quickly pulled back to London ahead of his scheduled departure early next year. In his place will be sent a British ambassador far more attuned to the populist impulses of Trump and Johnson.
White House officials will have watched that with some satisfaction. They know Boris Johnson is almost certain to win the keys to Number Ten, and they sense they have leverage over him. If he ends up taking the UK over the cliff and into a disruptive No Deal Brexit, Johnson is going to need America’s help at the highest levels.
But here’s the thing. Trump doesn’t do favours for allies. “America First” is more than a slogan.
It’s an accurate description of how this White House does business.
So Boris may throw Sir Kim under the bus, but it won’t win him even momentary credit with the Administration.
It will encourage US officials to seek more concessions from the UK ahead of trade talks and in pursuit of other American foreign policy goals.
Johnson cannot afford to alienate both Brussels and Washington. And the White House will exploit that to the full.
The great irony, as I have pointed out before, is that all of this vindicates Sir Kim’s original leaked analysis. He was telling London that Trump is an erratic US President with his own nationalist agenda, and he was warning his bosses to tread with extreme care.
Instead of letting Trump roll all over British diplomatic pride, I have a suggestion for Boris Johnson. Read those leaked diplomatic telegrams (and the ones that weren’t leaked). It will tell you all you need to know about a President who you think will be your best friend, but in reality will look at you, smell weakness and vulnerability, and take full advantage.
That’s why there was probably a big victor at the ITV debate last night, at that exact moment when Johnson hesitated to back Darroch.
The winner was Donald Trump.