Top Foreign Office diplomat confirms police involvement in Washington ambassador leak probe

Posted On: 
10th July 2019

The police are involved in the inquiry into how top-secret UK cables about Donald Trump’s administration were leaked, the Foreign Office's top diplomat has confirmed.

Sir Simon McDonald with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2018
Credit: 
PA Images

Sir Simon McDonald said the “unprecedented” incident, which led to the UK’s ambassador to Washington Sir Kim Darroch resigning, had left staff in the department “shaken”.

In his resignation letter Sir Kim said the controversy had made it “impossible” for him to carry on, despite being expected to leave the role at the end of the year.

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President Trump had reacted angrily to the publication of the cables - in which the ambassador described the US government as "inept" and "uniquely dysfunctional" - in the Mail on Sunday.

When asked by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee what the sanctions could be for the culprit following the Government's inquiry, Sir Simon, the permanent secretary, said: “There are a range of sanctions up to and including summary dismissal.

“If it is a criminal case, well then it will be turned over to the director of public prosecutions. The police are involved.”

In response to Sir Kim’s resignation letter, Sir Simon said he accepted it with “deep personal regret” adding that he was the “target of a malicious leak”. 

“Over the last few difficult days you have behaved as you have always behaved over a long and distinguished career, with dignity, professionalism and class," he said.

“The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and whole of the public service have stood with you: you were the target of a malicious leak; you were simply doing your job.”

He also confirmed to the committee that he had convened an all staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon, where he would vow to “pursue the culprit” so as to “reassure” colleagues.

“This is a personal tragedy for a friend and colleague," Sir Simon added.

"This is something which will make us look at our ways of working again, but I will give them one big assurance, that we will pursue the culprit with all means at our disposal and because it is very important that the person is caught...

"Second I will encourage them to continue to work in the necessary, traditional way, that we can’t serve our secretaries of state if we start concealing key information.”

CABINET SECRETARY

In his letter to Sir Kim, Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill said the incident marked a “shocking betrayal of trust” and was an “enormous regret”.

“I am deeply sorry to learn of your resignation," the civil service chief said.

"Although I understand the reasons for your decision, it is a matter of enormous regret that you were put in this position after a shocking betrayal of trust.

“I know that public servants in the UK and overseas will continue to be guided by the same values of integrity and impartiality that you have shown in these challenging times.

"I thank you, on behalf of the Civil Service and the country, for your outstanding contribution to public life."

BORIS JOHNSON

Meanwhile Boris Johnson was condemned by MPs and ex-diplomats for failing to stand up for the ambassador at last night's televised Tory leadership debate - thereby making his position untenable.

Former UK ambassador to Washington, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, told BBC's World at One: "I think the Prime Minister and others tried their best to offer their support to them, but the situation was rapidly getting out of control with the increasingly intemperate comments from Donald Trump.

"So I think what worried him was what would happen with a new Prime Minister who had made no commitment to him at all in the debate last night.”

Sir Simon Fraser, who served as permanent secretary to the Foreign Office until 2015 told the same programme: “I think it is regrettable that Boris Johnson didn’t support him clearly in the debate, because we appoint our ambassadors to go overseas to represent the country, to represent the government.

“Although Boris Johnson is not a member of this government, he has been a minister, he has been Foreign Secretary, he knows what this is all about and how diplomacy works and I think it would have been appropriate for him to support the ambassador."