A Discussion with British Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch
On March 30, the Center for the National Interest hosted a discussion with Sir Kim Darroch, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Darroch has served as ambassador to Washington since January 2016. He previously served as the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, leading the National Security Team on issues ranging from Iraq and Syria to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. He has also served as the UK Permanent Representative to the European Union and as EU Advisor to the Prime Minister. Ambassador Darroch discussed the future of the “special relationship” between Washington and London, Brexit, the NATO alliance, and Russia, among other topics. The Center’s Director of Defense Studies and Executive Editor of The National Interest, Harry J. Kazianis, moderated. Please find a summary of the event below. A video of the discussion can be accessed here.
A Discussion with Sir Kim Darroch
The British ambassador to the United States asserted that following President Trump’s inauguration the “special relationship” between the U.S. and UK has “never been closer” and that the two countries’ ability to work together in solving international issues “will only get stronger over the next decade.” Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch also argued that his country is in a good position to reach a free trade agreement with the European Union that will be “in both sides’ interest.”
The bilateral relationship is off to a strong start, said Darroch, notwithstanding reported understaffing in U.S. executive agencies. Darroch stated that not only had the Trump administration invited Prime Minister Theresa May to visit the White House at an historically early point for a new White House administration—within a week after the President’s inauguration—but also the Embassy has had no problems accessing the administration, referring to the embassy’s dealings with the White House as “exceptionally easy and open.”
Darroch also expounded on the United Kingdom’s tight-knit relationship with the U.S. in defense and intelligence, noting that the two countries are nearing an agreement that would allow F-35 stealth fighters from both countries to land on each other’s aircraft carriers. The Ambassador stated that the British government has received positive responses from the Trump administration in other policy consultations and that mechanisms currently being developed to enhance further cooperation on policy exceed what was seen over the past decade. Darroch also said that while the United States was at the top of Britain’s list for a new free trade agreement, that agreement could only be signed after the United Kingdom exited the EU.
Ambassador Darroch expressed confidence in the United Kingdom’s ability to reach a mutually-beneficial deal with the European Union as it withdraws from the bloc and to maintain a successful relationship going forward. (The British government officially began the withdrawal process on March 29 by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in its letter to the President of the European Council.) Darroch said that over the next two years London will seek a “pragmatic outcome to negotiations” that promotes economic cooperation within the boundaries of a new relationship, while minimizing disruptions to businesses and individuals and defining Britain’s rights and obligations in leaving the EU. While others may see the United Kingdom negotiating from a disadvantage and expect the EU to drive a hard bargain to dissuade other member states from following the British example, said Darroch, he believes the UK to actually be in a position of strength: while the UK exports 255 billion pounds of goods to the EU every year, it imports 300 billion pounds; its budget deficit is down two-thirds since 2010; national employment is at its highest rate ever; and it could pursue individual free trade agreements with members of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, he emphasized it was important for London to conduct the negotiation process in a manner that will keep centrifugal forces at bay and preserve the kingdom. Several participants questioned whether London will truly occupy a position of strength in the talks, due to European Union imperatives to prevent further withdrawals.
Moreover, the Ambassador said that none of the UK’s security interests would change or diverge from the EU upon its departure from the union, asserting that the two share the same values and interests and that London’s willingness to help allies will certainly not diminish in the coming years—if anything, it could expand. Darroch was quick to note, however, that the UK considers NATO to be the “bedrock of security in Europe” and that any developments within the EU that seek to reduce NATO’s role on the continent are unwelcome. Additionally, the Ambassador argued that President Trump’s critique of NATO members that have failed to spend to 2% of their GDP on defense was a valid one, and seeing that the United Kingdom is the largest financial contributor to the alliance after the United States, other European countries needed to contribute more towards their security on the continent.
Finally, Ambassador Darroch discussed the United Kingdom’s relationship with Russia and its position on Moscow’s broader foreign policy, in addition to other international issues. The UK has serious concerns regarding Russia’s impact on three key British interests, said Darroch: the necessity of finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict in which the Assad regime does not retain power; preventing border changes by force (which is tied to resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, ideally by fulfilling the Minsk agreements); and Russia’s destabilizing actions in Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans. Darroch, however, emphasized that it is important to immediately open and maintain channels of communication between the Russian and British governments, as Moscow felt that Western governments did not take their problems and concerns—for example, regarding free trade disputes between the EU, Ukraine and Russia—seriously. (Ambassador Darroch insisted that the EU had sought to address this). Furthermore, he said, dialogue with the Russian government would inform Western capitals regarding Moscow’s decision-making processes. Darroch viewed China from a similar perspective, saying that London is aware of China’s increased assertiveness and growing international leverage and raises concerns through open and productive bilateral channels.