MPs want a chance to grill Boris Johnson’s pick for ambassador to the USA before the appointment is made, and are calling for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the leaks that fuelled Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation.
The cross-party Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Tom Tugendhat, has asked for a pre-appointment hearing to add an “additional layer of scrutiny” to the hiring process, although it has not asked for a veto on Johnson’s choice. This would allow extra protection against “unfair and unfounded claims of political bias of civil servants”, they said in a report.
The leaking of Sir Kim Darroch’s confidential and critical dispatches about US president Donald Trump caused a highly embarrassing row which ended in the ambassador’s resignation.
MORE: Brexit Party worker claims to be behind leak that led to Kim Darroch’s resignationSteven Edginton, the Brexit Party worker and journalist who claims to have received the leak, said he was motivated by rumours that the civil service was biased against Brexit and were “quietly working to thwart the result of the referendum”, he said in a Mail Online article.
While Johnson was contesting the Tory leadership, he refused to support Darroch, which the diplomat said made his position untenable and forced the resignation. But there is also speculation that Johnson will make a political appointment rather than a career diplomat.
“At a time when the civil service is being thrust into the centre of the political debate, including an additional layer of scrutiny to the appointment process would provide extra protection against unfair and unfounded claims of political bias of civil servants that incidents such as leaks can generate,” the MPs’ report said.
They have also called for a “zero tolerance” approach to further leaks and a review of Whitehall confidentiality, proposing a classification system for communications and suggesting the threat of removing civil service pensions from the sources of leaks.
“The unauthorised disclosure of material sent by Sir Kim Darroch makes one thing very clear: those who leak are reckless and dangerous,” they said.
“In this case they have caused the resignation of a dedicated and skilled public servant, undermined the influence of the United Kingdom around the world and, potentially, caused a damaging rift with our most important ally.”
MPs added that the government can’t “pick and choose” in the severity of its response, when the leak paints the Foreign Office in a positive light. “If it sends out a message that some leaks can be tolerated it helps create a culture where those who are tempted to leak are emboldened to do so,” said the report.
Committee chair Tom Tugendhat said that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must send a clear signal by committing to rooting out the source of all leaks. “Confidentiality is at the heart of our diplomacy,” he said. “The effective functioning of government depends on it.
“Leaks are corrosive and undermine the work of the FCO, the civil service and the wider government at home and abroad. They place civil servants in untenable situations and betray the trust placed in us to serve our nation.”