Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has defended the UK press’ right to report on the embarrassing leaked cables of UK ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch after the Met Police said the media should not publish the leaked documents.
Currently in the running to become Conservative Party leader and the next prime minister, Hunt tweeted that while the leaks damaged US and UK relations and the person responsible must be held accountable, he “defend[s] to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them & judge them to be in the public interest: that is their job.”
The Metropolitan Police said its Counter Terrorism Command had launched an investigation into the alleged leaking of official communications that included negative assessments of the Trump administration, and it urged those responsible to turn themselves in.
“The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause may also be a criminal matter,” Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said. “I would advise all owners, editors and publishers of social and mainstream media not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s Government.”
Hunt’s response to the police statement was echoed by both the media and his fellow Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson, who said: “It cannot be conceivably right that newspapers or any other media organization publishing such material should face prosecution.”
The foreign secretary’s defense of press freedom comes as a surprise to some, given the fact that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is in jail on UK soil as he fights extradition to the US for publishing government leaks. Hunt refused to answer a question about Assange as he entered the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on Thursday.
Darroch’s diplomatic cables were leaked to the Mail on Sunday and reveal his scathing opinion of Trump’s White House from 2017 up to this June, including his assessment that Trump is “inept,” “incompetent” and that the administration’s Iran policy is unlikely “to become more coherent anytime soon.” He resigned on Wednesday, but remains in the post until a successor is appointed.