Theresa May has expressed “full faith” in her ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, but rejected his description of Donald Trump as inept and insecure, as she launched an inquiry into the leak of his diplomatic memos.
The prime minister’s spokesman said it was Darroch’s job to provide “an honest and unvarnished view” of the US administration but she did not necessarily have to agree with everything he had written.
No 10 is scrambling to find the leaker after two years of memos emerged in the Mail on Sunday, causing Donald Trump to condemn Darroch as someone who “has not served the UK well”.
With US-UK relations damaged by the embarrassment, British officials have apologised to the US for the leak but not the content of the memos.
“Contact has been made with the Trump administration setting out our view that we believe the leak in unacceptable. It is, of course, a matter of regret that this has happened,” May’s spokesman said.
He said the Cabinet Office had begun its inquiry into whether a civil servant or politician had released the documents to pro-Brexit journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
May’s spokesman said there was no evidence that a hostile overseas government had hacked the documents and rejected calls for the police to be involved at this stage.
Liam Fox, the international trade secretary who is meeting the president’s daughter Ivanka later on Monday in the US, has called for the leaker to be prosecuted when found.
He 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.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary and Tory leadership candidate, said that while he did not agree with all of Darroch’s comments, it was vital that diplomatic staff “feel that they are able to express those frank views”.
“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.”
Hunt added the basis for a successful diplomatic service was “the free exchange of information and opinions, and the understanding that we’re not always going to agree with each other but we want to know what people around the world are thinking”.
The leak has led some pro-Brexit politicians to call for Darroch to be sacked. Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Nigel Farage, the Brexit party leader, said the incident showed the need for “major civil service reform” and a purge of senior ranks to install officials more sympathetic to Trump and to Brexit.
“I’m afraid with our civil service, our Foreign Office, everybody stayed in place, it was obvious to all that these were people who in many ways did not accept the results of those elections,” Farage said, adding the new US ambassador should be “a retired business figure, something like that”.
Farage said a future Boris Johnson government would be expected to remove the ambassador, adding: “If you take Boris at his word, people like Kim Darroch simply shouldn’t be around.”