A teenage Brexit Party staffer has claimed he was involved in leaking secret diplomatic cables from the UK’s ambassador in Washington, a move which caused a huge international firestorm and ultimately cost Sir Kim Darroch his job.
Revealing himself in the Mail on Sunday, 19-year-old Steven Edington wrote: “I am sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists but this was not a Brexiteer plot to topple Sir Kim, nor was it some devilish scheme to torpedo the independence of the Civil Service by installing a political appointee in Washington. Instead, it was simply an honest journalistic endeavour.”
Speaking to a “large number of Whitehall sources, including retired and current civil servants” over seven months, Edington said his investigation into how the civil service is preparing for Brexit “took an extraordinary turn when a trusted source read out to me an astonishing letter written by Sir Kim in June 2017 to Sir Mark Sedwill, Britain's national security adviser. In it, Sir Kim branded Trump’s White House ‘inept’ and ‘utterly dysfunctional’”.
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He then contacted journalist Isabel Oakeshott to develop the story before publishing it in the Mail on Sunday under her name. “Although it is not unusual for British tabloids to use the work of journalists without giving them a credit, it is unusual for the freelancer to out themselves at a later date,” says The Guardian.
Bloomberg reports the resulting fallout “dominated political debate in the UK”, and put pressure on Boris Johnson, who is likely to succeed Theresa May as prime minister... after he refused to back Darroch during a televised leadership debate.
The Sun says it also “prompted a startling reaction from the Metropolitan Police” who warned journalists could be charged, a move denounced across the political spectrum.
There is now a Scotland Yard investigation into the leaker, and some MPs have called for the leak to be considered a breach of the Official Secrets Act, “prompting a debate about press freedoms to report on the civil service” says The New European.
Edington revealed he is now anxious he could be arrested for not revealing his source, and also believes he may be being tracked by the security services citing an incident last week in London in which he claims he was being secretly photographed.
Despite claiming he pursued the story “to develop my career”, questions will inevitably be asked about whether there was a wider motive in play, given Edington’s role as a digital strategist for the Brexit Party and previous work on the pro-Brexit Leave means Leave campaign and pro-Leave website Westmonster which was founded by Brexit-backer Arron Banks who also has links to Oakeshott.
“I appreciate that my CV - and my pro-Brexit views - will inevitably fuel the conspiracy theories but I want to be absolutely clear: the leak of Sir Kim's cables had absolutely nothing to do with the Brexit Party” he said.
Questions will continue as long as the source of the leak remains a mystery. Given the sensitive nature of the cables and timespan they cover it is believed only a handful of people would have had full access. There has been widespread speculation that whoever leaked them was seeking to embarrass Darroch, expose the Remain-bias within the civil service and even to install a pro-Brexit ambassador in Washington.
While its immediate impact saw Darroch leave his post, some have argued the incident could have far greater long-lasting impact by permanently damaging diplomats’ ability to offer frank and honest assessment of their domestic political situation for fear their confidential documents be leaked.
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