International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has called for the law to be involved in how explosive and secret remarks from the British ambassador to the US regarding President Donald Trump became public.
Dr Fox expressed concern the leaks could damage the UK’s relationship with Washington after President Trump made clear his displeasure with Britain’s chief envoy to America.
Mr Trump hit out at the UK’s ambassador to Washington after the leak of sensitive diplomatic messages describing his “inept” administration.
The president said Sir Kim Darroch had “not served the UK well” and his administration were “not big fans” of the envoy.
Dr Fox, who is visiting the US, told the BBC: “This is such a damaging, potentially damaging, event that I hope the full force of our internal discipline, or even the law, will come down on whoever actually carried out this particular act.”
He was scathing about the breach of diplomatic security, saying: “Malicious leaks of this nature are unprofessional. They are unethical. And they are unpatriotic.
“Because they can actually lead to damage to that relationship which can, therefore, affect our security interests.
“I think it is unconscionable that any professional person in either politics or the civil service can behave in this way.”
Asked if he would use a meeting with Mr Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump to apologise for the ambassador’s remarks, Dr Fox said: “I will be apologising for the fact that either our civil service, or elements of our political class, have not lived up to the expectations that either we have or the United States has about their behaviour, which in this particular case has lapsed in a most extraordinary and unacceptable way.”
A formal investigation will be carried out to determine how the candid and highly embarrassing messages from Sir Kim to the UK Government were leaked.
Mr Trump – who was described as “radiating insecurity” in Sir Kim’s assessment – was clearly annoyed by the leak.
He told reporters: “The ambassador has not served the UK well, I can tell you that.
“We are not big fans of that man and he has not served the UK well. So I can understand it, and I can say things about him but I won’t bother.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he did not agree with all the views expressed by Sir Kim and insisted Britain has the “warmest” of relationships with the US.
Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Office, Mr Hunt said: “It’s a personal view and there will be many people in this building who don’t agree with that view and indeed I don’t agree with some of the views that we saw in those letters.
“I think the US administration is highly effective and we have the warmest of relationships and a partnership based on standing up for shared values.”
Mr Hunt said the leak was “not acceptable” and warned that there would be “very serious consequences” if the culprit is identified.
“I’m very concerned about it because fundamental to the proper functioning of our diplomatic network, which I happen to believe is one of the finest, if not the finest, in the world, is to be able to exchange opinions frankly,” he added.
The documents obtained by the Mail on Sunday detail Sir Kim’s assessments of the Trump administration from 2017 to the present.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “A formal leak investigation has now been initiated.”
Officials insisted the relationship with the White House could withstand the “mischievous behaviour” of the leak.
The diplomatic memos suggest that in order to communicate with the president “you need to make your points simple, even blunt”.
In the cache of documents, Sir Kim gives a scathing assessment of the White House: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”
He questioned whether the White House “will ever look competent”.
Following Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK in June, Sir Kim warned that although the president had been “dazzled” by the pomp and ceremony of the trip, his administration would remain self-interested and “this is still the land of America First”.
In one of the most recent documents, Sir Kim refers to “incoherent, chaotic” US policy on Iran and questions Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off a retaliatory air strike against Tehran following the downing of an American drone.
The US and Iran have been at the brink of armed conflict over tensions in the Gulf, and Mr Trump stated that he called off a planned air strike with minutes to spare because of the potentially high number of casualties.
But Sir Kim said that the explanation “doesn’t stand up”, and suggested it may have been motivated by Mr Trump’s focus on the 2020 re-election campaign and his previous promises not to involve the US in foreign conflicts.
“It’s more likely that he was never fully on board and that he was worried about how this apparent reversal of his 2016 campaign promises would look come 2020,” Sir Kim said.
He said it was “unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent any time soon” as “this is a divided administration”.
In a particularly sensitive leak, a 2017 letter to National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill – sent 150 days into the Trump administration – laid bare the trouble in the White House.
Media reports of “vicious infighting and chaos” were “mostly true” despite the president’s attempts to brush them off.
Referring to the early allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the memo said “the worst cannot be ruled out”.
A lengthy investigation by Robert Mueller published earlier this year cleared the Trump team of the collusion allegations.
Justice Secretary David Gauke told the BBC: “I think it’s very important that ambassadors give honest, unvarnished advice to their country.
“And it is disgraceful that it’s been leaked.”
But Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage – who the US president once suggested would make a great ambassador – said Sir Kim was “totally unsuitable for the job and the sooner he is gone the better”.
Mr Farage has said he would not be the right person to be British ambassador to the US.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, I’m not a diplomat, and I think that’s quite an understatement.”
Pressed on whether he would take the post of ambassador to the US, Mr Farage said: “No. I don’t think I’m the right man for that job.
“But am I the right man to try and help forge a better, closer relationship in terms of intelligence, security and trade with an administration that contains friends of mine?
“Yes, I could be very useful.”
Mr Farage said: “For Sir Kim Darroch to openly speculate that Trump could be involved with dodgy Russians, and this could make the administration crash and burn… pretty irresponsible.
“No basis of truth in it whatsoever.”