- UK officials are considering the possibility that a Russian state cyber-attack was behind a leak of memos which saw the UK ambassador in Washington brand Donald Trump’s administration "inept and incompetent."
- The leak of memos has caused a major diplomatic row between the UK and US, with Trump saying he would "no longer deal" with Darroch.
- The leak has prompted a major Foreign Office investigation, with senior Conservative members of parliament calling for a police inquiry to identify the source behind it.
- Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "They are going to follow all avenues of inquiry to try to understand how this happened. That’s something that will be considered."
LONDON — UK officials are investigating whether the Russian government hacked secret diplomatic memos which branded Donald Trump "inept and incompetent," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has confirmed.
Hunt said the possibility of a Russian cyber-attack to steal a huge tranche of memos written by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador in Washington, is now an official line of inquiry.
The so-called "diplomatic telegrams" sent by Darroch to senior UK officials revealed an unfavourable assessment of the current President and his "dysfunctional" White House administration, prompting a major Foreign Office investigation into the source of the leak.
Donald Trump on Monday said the US would "no longer deal" with Darroch, who was subsequently uninvited to a banquet hosted by the White House, while Downing Street said the prime minister still had "full support" in Darroch.
The inquiry into who leaked the tranche of documents initially focused on senior UK politicians and officials, but senior Foreign Office figures now believe an enemy government hoping to destabilise relations between Western powers could have been behind it.
Jeremy Hunt told The Sun Newspaper: "Of course it would be massively concerning if it was the act of a foreign, hostile state.
"I’ve seen no evidence that that’s the case, but we’ll look at the leak inquiry very carefully.
"They are going to follow all avenues of inquiry to try to understand how this happened. That’s something that will be considered."
One senior UK government figure told the paper: "A big question now being asked is who would have the most to gain from the leak?
"Without doubt that the answer is a hostile state who wants to cause division, because they have succeeded."
The Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said on Monday that they were "not ruling out" the possibility of a hostile state being behind the leak.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs select committee, on Monday asked the police to investigate the leak, saying: "How can officials give honest advice to politicians if it is stored and leaked for petty point scoring? This is deeply damaging to the integrity of the UK and must be investigated by the police immediately."
Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary, also called for a criminal investigation, saying: "This is clearly a breach of the Official Secrets Act and if they can find out who did it, prosecutions should follow."
Liam Fox, the trade secretary who is on a trip to Washington DC, said that "heads must roll" but added that he would apologise for the leak to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
"I hope the full force of the law will come down in the person who did this," he added.
The journalist who published the leaks, Isabel Oakeshott, on Monday denied receiving them from Russian agents.
Theresa May is expected to discuss the row with her Cabinet on Tuesday morning, which escalated on Monday evening when Trump criticised Darroch as well as May herself for her handling of Brexit.
"I have been very critical about the way the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit," he said.
"What a mess she and her representatives have created. I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way. I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S."
"We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister. While I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent State Visit last month, it was the Queen who I was most impressed with!" he said.
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