Senior diplomat quits, saying Brexit demands undermine civil service impartiality

Written by Beckie Smith on 9 December 2019 in News
News

Brexit envoy said civil servants are asked to deliver messages that are “neither fully honest nor politically impartial”

Photo: Wikicommons/AgnosticPreachersKid 

The UK’s most senior Brexit envoy to the United States has resigned, expressing consternation that impartial civil servants are being asked to deliver political messages that are not “fully honest”.

Alexandra Hall Hall, who has been Brexit counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington, DC since December 2018, stepped down last week saying her position had become “unbearable personally and untenable professionally”.

In her resignation letter, dated 3 December and seen by CNN, Hall Hall said that she had been made to deliver messages that were “neither fully honest nor politically impartial”, as her diplomatic position as supposed to be.


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The letter, addressed to deputy ambassador Michael Tatham, said being asked to reflect the divisive and partisan rhetoric used by politicians had undermined trust in UK institutions and damaged the country’s global reputation.

Hall Hall also revealed that she had filed a formal complaint about being asked to convey overtly partisan language about Brexit to counterparts in the US.

"Each person has to find their own level of comfort with this situation. Since I have no other element to my job except Brexit, I find my position has become unbearable personally, and untenable professionally,” the letter, which Hall Hall shared widely with diplomatic colleagues, read.

She continued: "I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and trade-offs which Brexit involves; the use of misleading or disingenuous arguments about the implications of the various options before us; and some behaviour towards our institutions, which, were it happening in another country, we would almost certainly as diplomats have received instructions to register our concern.

"It makes our job to promote democracy and the rule of law that much harder, if we are not seen to be upholding these core values at home."

Hall Hall said she had opted to stand down before this week’s general election to avoid the perception that her decision was tied to the election result.

Hall Hall was British ambassador to Georgia from 2013 to 2016 and has also held posts in Delhi and Bangkok over the course of her 33-year diplomatic career.

Immediately before moving to the embassy last year, she was a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, an organisation that promotes US global leadership and work with allies and other international partners.

 "I am also at a stage in life where I would prefer to do something more rewarding with my time, than peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust," Hall Hall said.

The veteran diplomat’s resignation came five months after Sir Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US, announced he would step down after confidential memos he had written about the Trump administration were leaked to the press.

The memos, which described the Trump White House as "diplomatically clumsy and inept", triggered criticism by pro-Brexit politicians, who claimed they showed Darroch was not politically neutral. Following his resignation, the FT reported, Hall Hall wrote on Facebook: “I am proud to have worked for this man. He has behaved impeccably, despite being insulted and betrayed shamefully.

“His career has been one of life-long service to our country, performed with dignity, grace, integrity and impartiality — the core values of the civil service. We in the embassy will miss him enormously.”

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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