The word “cheeky,” meaning “insolent” or “impertinent,” is a favorite in Britain, as in, to quote the Oxford English Dictionary: “Some even had the cheek to push their cameras through the front gate” or, “If he gives me any of his cheek, I’ll knock him down.”
In the world of diplomacy, a foreign leader suggesting publicly to another government whom it should send as ambassador is most definitely cheeky, even in the view of Britain’s cheekiest newspaper, the Sun, which called it “a highly unusual intervention that breaks with diplomatic protocol.”
When the man proposed as ambassador is a leader not of the party in power but rather a thorn in the side of the party in power, it transcends “cheek” and becomes “a corker.”
That was the word the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow deployed to describe President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet Monday: “Many people would like to see Nigel Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!”
Farage is the outgoing leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and of the successful populist movement called Brexit to take Britain out of the European Union. He also campaigned for Trump during the election and was among the first visitors to Trump Tower in New York after Trump’s victory.
Farage said he was “very flattered” by Trump’s suggestion.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was less than thrilled.
“There is no vacancy,” said a spokesman for 10 Downing Street. “We already have an excellent ambassador to the U.S.,” Kim Darroch.
Trump’s tweet could be treated as comic but for what Sparrow called its “serious implications.” Among them:
Trump has at a stroke undermined the authority of Britain’s current ambassador to Washington…. Effectively he has issued a public statement of no confidence in him. This would be relatively unusual if he were dealing with the ambassador from a hostile country, but it is an extraordinary thing to do to the ambassador of an ally.
He has given a huge boost in status to a leading figure in a UK opposition party — again, an unfriendly move to May.
He has confirmed that any hopes of him operating as a ‘normal’ president seem misguided. Perhaps it was a joke. But, if so, that probably makes it all worse.
The British media, like their American counterparts, have become accustomed to Trump’s idiosyncrasies.
Still, this one surprised.
Jon Sopel at the BBC called Trump’s action “an extraordinary intervention. The future head of one nation telling another country who they should appoint as their ambassador is unusual enough; when it is two nations that are meant to share a special relationship, it is a breach of nearly every rule of diplomatic protocol. At a stroke it puts tension into the Trump/Theresa May relationship before they have even met.”
“In Downing Street and diplomatic circles there is consternation,” Sopel added.
But causing consternation is a specialty for both Trump and Farage.
“It’s a bit of a shock to me,” Farage said. “No one had mentioned the idea to me, but I have good relations with his team, and if I could help the U.K. in any way, I would.”
Farage elaborated in Breitbart News on Tuesday.
“Like a bolt from the blue Trump tweeted out that I would do a great job as UK’s Ambassador to Washington. I can scarcely believe that he did that though speaking to a couple of his long time friends perhaps I am a little less surprised. They all say the same thing: that Trump is a very loyal man and supports those that stand by him.
“… At every stage I am greeted by negative comments coming out of Downing Street. The dislike of me, UKIP, and the referendum result is more important to them than what could be good for our country.”
He concluded: “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. The world has changed and it’s time that Downing Street did too.”
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