It’s been just over a week since Observer published my article discussing the possibility of Nigel Farage being appointed U.K. ambassador to Washington. After a weekend of talk on social media, last Monday night Trump tweeted:
It’s fair to say the president-elect’s comments sent London’s political elite into a tailspin.
“There is no vacancy,” said Prime Minister Theresa May’s press secretary. “We already have an excellent ambassador to the U.S.” Successive government ministers then took to the airwaves to confirm that even if there were a position, it wouldn’t go to the Brexit architect anyway.
The top brass insists they want to stick with Sir Kim Darroch, a nice man who has built no real relationship with the new administration—not least because it’s clear his diplomats failed to see the Trump win coming (or indeed make any plans in case it did).
At the same time, The Daily Mail claimed Trump was not merely being indiscrete on Twitter but instead was running a “war game” with the British elite. The paper’s political editor at large Isabel Oakeshott said, “The ploy was analyzed at length, and the note only sent after consideration of all possible tactics and the likely response.”
So where does this leave the British diplomatic mission to the U.K.’s most important ally? The answer is simple: The Trump tweet is evidence that while he may be pro-British, he has no time at all for the British political establishment.
The new administration sees the Tea Party and U.K. Independence Party as two sides of the same political coin, and Farage agrees with them.
In his speech at the Brexit victory party on Wednesday, Farage was clear that Brexit and Trump were part of the same movement, and he predicted that those who were angry about how 2016 had gone faced worse news in 2017. (Incidentally, he arrived at the event holding a tray of Ferrero Rocher, widely joked about as the favored chocolates of ambassadors.)
May does have a trick up her sleeve in the guise of a meeting between Trump and the queen. Initially, this was to take the form of a visit to Windsor, but in recent days it’s transformed into the offer of a full state visit. That would involve two state banquets, one at Buckingham Palace with the queen and another at London Guildhall with the lord mayor.
The state visit is a clear demonstration that London is upping the ante in the battle to outdo Farage.
It is true that few world leaders can resist British Royal pageantry, and I am sure the State Department will accept the offer when it is formally made after inauguration. The second face-to-face meeting between Farage and Trump is now just days away, while the first prime ministerial visit will take months, and the state visit will be summer 2017.
So we are essentially back where we started; the U.K. establishment has not grasped how the world has changed. Farage could negotiate the new North Atlantic Free Trade Area with relative ease. The only reason London is blocking him is pride and arrogance.
But consider one thing: When Farage is back in America, what will he be discussing with the transition team? I suggest it won’t be the weather, or next season’s football. It is bound to be how to take forward the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. in a post-Brexit world.
The truth of this is Farage is the U.K.’s top man in America, whether allies of Sir Kim Darroch accept it or not. He’s already making plans and forging relationships—it’s just that the London elite has no idea what they are.
The old guard does not have a seat at the table unless they borrow Farage’s, and when they put their own table together in the form of the state visit, some of the City of London think Aldermen will elbow Farage in anyway.
Surely, any world leader would be deemed mad to put party politics above relationships with the U.S. This is what Theresa May plans to do, but it remains to be seen how long the Farage boycott can last.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.
Andre Walker is a lobby correspondent covering the work of the British Parliament and prime minister. Before studying journalism at the University of London he worked as a political staffer for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter @andrejpwalker