- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
As with most Donald Trump stories these days, it started with a tweet. On Monday, the president-elect took to Twitter to endorse Brexit poster-boy Nigel Farage for the United Kingdom’s next ambassador to Washington in a move that defied diplomatic convention. Trump has made a habit of bypassing formal diplomatic channels with London to engage Farage, foreshadowing a bumpy road for the U.S.-U.K. relationship under the new administration.
“Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!” Trump tweeted Monday evening. The endorsement, a sharp break from diplomatic protocol, put London and sitting ambassador Sir Kim Darroch in an awkward position; he has only been in Washington for eleven months.
Farage, the frontman for the successful campaign to get Britain to leave the EU, is a member of European parliament after failed bids to win a parliamentary seat in Britain. Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union ultimately ousted British Prime Minister Theresa May’s predecessor, David Cameron.
Farage, unlike May, is one of the few foreigners close to the president-elect, whose mercurial foreign policy views leave many U.S. allies around the world on edge. Trump’s newly-anointed White House strategist, Steve Bannon, pledged to consult Farage before May on bilateral issues, putting the British prime minister in a tough spot. Trump put his Farage favoritism on display when he invited the Brexiteer to Trump Towers on Nov. 12 — before May had been invited to Washington (though in Trump’s defense, he did tell May to let him know if she ever crosses the pond). Trump also made himself out to be a kindred spirit with Farage, marketing his presidential campaign bid as the U.S. “Brexit plus plus plus.”
The prime minister’s office was quick to say no to Trump’s latest offer — and to rush to Darroch’s defense. “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the U.S.,” May’s spokesman said.
“We have a first-rate ambassador in Washington doing a very good job of relating both with the present administration and with the administration to be, and there is no vacancy for that position,” Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson added.
Former British ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer called the idea “barking mad.” Farage, Meyer said, would be “hopelessly compromised being beholden to Trump when he should be 100 percent beholden to his own Government.”
Other British MPs from across the political spectrum voiced their own, not-so-subtle, opinions.
If we're going to have Farage as an ambassador for anywhere can it be somewhere far away without good communication links, like the moon?
— Justin Madders MP (@justinmadders) November 22, 2016
— Neil Coyle (@coyleneil) November 22, 2016
Sorry. We are a sovereign nation and make our own decisions. https://t.co/dbuXM4Hm7E
— Chris Bryant MP (@RhonddaBryant) November 22, 2016
Farage as ambassador is a frankly stupid idea. I have more diplomacy in my little finger. But what's more worrying is the axing of TPP
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) November 22, 2016
But despite the rebuke at home, Farage really seemed to like the idea. In an op-ed for Breitbart — the far-right online publication that Steve Bannon ran until recently — Farage responded by supporting Trump’s decision, then trashing May’s government.
“Like a bolt from the blue Trump tweeted out that I would do a great job as the U.K.’s Ambassador to Washington,” he said. Then, Farage praised himself. “I have known several of the Trump team for years and I am in a good position with the President-elect’s support to help,” he wrote.
He wasn’t too pleased with May’s quick rejection of the proposal. “In the United Kingdom the people have spoken but the players at the top have, I am afraid, stayed the same,” Farage wrote. “It is career politics at its worst and it is now getting in the way of the national interest,” he added.
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