The government has begun an inquiry into a leak of emails from the UK ambassador in Washington which deemed the Trump administration “inept”.
In the messages, Sir Kim Darroch said the White House was “uniquely dysfunctional” and “divided” under Donald Trump.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the memos reflected Sir Kim’s “personal view”, not that of the UK government.
The White House has yet to respond to the memos’ contents.
The Foreign Office said the leak to the Mail on Sunday was “mischievous”, but did not deny the accuracy of the memos. A spokesperson confirmed a formal leak investigation would be launched.
In the emails, 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.”
He questioned whether this White House “will ever look competent” but also warned the US president should not be written off.
Mr Hunt – who is fighting to become the next Conservative leader and prime minister – said while it was the UK ambassador’s job to give “frank opinions”, the memos expressed “a personal view”.
“It is not the view of the British government, it’s not my view,” he said.
“We continue to think that under President Trump the US administration is not just highly effective but the best friend of Britain on the international stage.”
Earlier, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said whoever was responsible for the leak must be prosecuted.
“Diplomats must be able to communicate securely with their governments,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
However, he defended Sir Kim, saying the job of the UK’s ambassador is “to represent the interests and wishes of the British people” and not “the sensibilities of the United States”.
Although Sir Kim said Mr Trump was “dazzled” by his state visit to the UK in June, the ambassador warned that his administration will remain self-interested, adding: “This is still the land of America First.”
Differences between the US and the UK on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty might come to the fore as the countries seek to improve trading relations after Brexit, the memos said.
To get through to the president, “you need to make your points simple, even blunt”, he said.
The leader of the Brexit party, Nigel Farage, has criticised Sir Kim for his comments, branding the ambassador “totally unsuitable for the job” and saying the “sooner he is gone the better”.
However, Justice Secretary David Gauke said it was very important that ambassadors gave “honest and unvarnished advice to their country”.
He said: “It is disgraceful that it’s been leaked, but we should expect our ambassadors to tell the truth, as they see it.”
In a message sent last month, Sir Kim branded US policy on Iran as “incoherent, chaotic”.
Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off an airstrike against Tehran with 10 minutes to go – that it would cause 150 casualties – “doesn’t stand up”, Sir Kim said.
Instead, he suggested the president was “never fully on board” and did not want to reverse his campaign promise not to involve the US in foreign conflicts.
‘Infighting and chaos’
Sir Kim said it was “unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent any time soon” because “this is a divided administration”.
The leaked files date from 2017 to the present day, covering the ambassador’s early impressions that media reports of “vicious infighting and chaos” in the White House were “mostly true”.
They also give an assessment of allegations about collusion between the Trump election campaign and Russia, saying “the worst cannot be ruled out”. The investigation by Robert Mueller has since found those claims were not proven.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the views of diplomats were “not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid”.
He said ministers and civil servants would handle this advice “in the right way” and ambassadors should be able to offer it confidentially.
The UK embassy in Washington has “strong relations” with the White House and these would continue, despite “mischievous behaviour” such as this leak, the spokesman said.