Johnson under fire from own side over Darroch

Boris Johnson came under sustained attack from Conservative MPs on Thursday over his failure to fully back Kim Darroch as UK ambassador to Washington, with backbenchers calling on the former foreign secretary to apologise.

As Mr Johnson rejected suggestions that he had contributed to Sir Kim’s decision to resign on Wednesday, Tory MPs lined up to criticise the actions of the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May as prime minister.

Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan, meanwhile, said there was no evidence that publication of confidential diplomatic cables by Sir Kim — where he described the US administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional” — was due to a hack.

Sir Alan, referring to the government’s investigation into the leak of Sir Kim’s cables, told MPs: “We do not, at the moment, have any evidence that this was a hack so our focus is on finding someone within the system who has released illicitly these communications.”

President Donald Trump denounced Sir Kim after the leak of his cables, and said he would refuse to deal with him, but the diplomat told friends he reached his decision to quit after Mr Johnson refused to support him in a televised Tory leadership debate.

During an urgent question in the House of Commons about Sir Kim’s resignation, Conservative MP David Morris said it was incumbent on all parliamentarians to back British diplomats and civil servants and that Mr Johnson “should come to the House and apologise”.

Roger Gale, another Tory MP, described Mr Johnson’s failure to defend Sir Kim in the ITV Conservative leadership debate as “lamentable”.

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, did not attack Mr Johnson directly, but said the government should “always stand up for those we send abroad, military or civilian”.

Mr Johnson defended himself over Sir Kim’s resignation, telling the Sun newspaper: “I can’t believe they’re trying to blame me for this. It seems bizarre to me. I’m a great supporter of Kim’s. I worked very well with him for years.”

Opposition MPs were strident in their condemnation of Mr Johnson. Labour MP Pat McFadden said: “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.”

Despite the attacks on Mr Johnson, there was no sign that the controversy over Sir Kim would dent his hopes of winning the Conservative leadership in a postal ballot involving 160,000 Tory party members.

ConservativeHome, the website popular with Tory activists, said on Thursday that Mr Johnson “has won this contest already” after publishing a survey in which 72 per cent of respondents said Mr Johnson should be the next Conservative leader.

Sir Kim’s resignation could prove a setback for Mr Johnson if Mrs May decides to appoint a new ambassador to Washington before she leaves Downing Street later this month.

Mr Johnson’s team is insisting that he must be left to decide who the next ambassador should be if he wins the leadership contest.

Liz Truss, Treasury chief secretary and a supporter of Mr Johnson, told journalists it would take months to appoint a replacement for Sir Kim. “It’s likely that the new ambassador will be selected and appointed by the new prime minister,” she said.

However, Downing Street is leaving open the possibility of Mrs May taking a quick decision.

“There’s a good chance it could be done quickly because it’s an important job,” said a government official. “It’s quite possible that Boris could appoint someone totally unsuitable and the PM would want to avoid that.”


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