Boris Johnson has appointed the UK’s first ever female ambassador to the United States.
Dame Karen Pierce, currently ambassador to the United Nations, will succeed Sir Kim Darroch as ambassador in Washington after Sir Kim was forced to resign over leaked emails criticising Donald Trump‘s administration.
Downing Street described her as “one of the UK’s most experienced senior diplomats”, adding: “The prime minister is clear that she is an outstanding and accomplished diplomat and he is delighted that she will be representing us in Washington.”
The announcement comes at a critical time for the UK’s relationship with Washington, as Mr Johnson seeks to secure a lucrative post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
It also comes amid tensions over the prime minister’s decision to defy Mr Trump over the Chinese tech giant Huawei, which the UK has allowed to build some parts of its 5G infrastructure.
She said: “I am honoured to have been asked to represent the UK in the US. I think it is the UK’s single most important relationship. There is a deep bond between Britain and the US, built on many pillars.
“We have a fantastic cross-government team across the US and I look forward to working with them to strengthen and even further deepen the special relationship between our two countries and peoples.”
The role, which is regarded as one of the UK’s most prestigious diplomatic postings, had been left vacant since Sir Kim stepped down in July last year, after saying it was “impossible” to continue in the role.
Mr Trump branded Sir Kim a “very stupid guy” after confidential emails emerged describing the US president as “clumsy and inept”.
In the leaked correspondence, Sir Kim said: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”
His decision to quit was reportedly prompted by Mr Johnson’s failure to support him in a live TV debate during the Conservative leadership contest.
Dame Karen is an experienced diplomat, who joined the Foreign Office in 1981, with postings in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Geneva. She has served as UK ambassador to the UN since March 2018.
The appointment comes after it emerged that the US president was apparently “apoplectic” with rage during a heated phone call with Mr Johnson over the UK’s decision to allow Huawei into its 5G network.
The US had warned the move would jeopardise intelligence sharing as it raised concerns over the telecommunications company’s links to the Chinese state.
Asked whether the new ambassador’s first job would be to smooth relations with the White House over Huawei, a No 10 spokesman said: “The UK has an excellent relationship with the US and I think Dame Karen’s ability as a diplomat is proven by her career.”
The spokesman declined to comment on reports that Trump slammed down the phone on his conversation with Johnson, instead referring reporters to Downing Street’s official account of the call, which made no mention of any disagreement.