Boris Johnson has waded into a diplomatic row over the departure to the US of an American diplomat’s wife who is under police investigation following a road accident in which a British teenager riding a motorcycle was killed.
Anne Sacoolas, who is married to a US diplomat based in the UK and enjoys diplomatic immunity, left the country after initially co-operating with a police investigation into the death of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old killed in Northamptonshire in August.
Local police officers believe that a vehicle leaving an air force base was driving on the wrong side of the road and collided with Mr Dunn’s motorcycle. Ms Sacoolas had told officers she had no plans to leave the country, according to the Northamptonshire force.
The prime minister said on Monday that “everybody’s sympathies are with the family of Harry Dunn” and urged the US to facilitate Ms Sacoolas’s return to the UK to co-operate with the investigation.
“I do not think that it can be right to use the process of diplomatic immunity for this type of purpose and I hope that Anne Sacoolas will come back and will engage properly with the processes of laws that are carried out in this country,” Mr Johnson told the BBC.
“That’s a point we’re raising today with the American ambassador and I hope it will be resolved very shortly . . . If we can’t resolve it, I will be raising it myself personally with the White House.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister found the “specific details of this case . . . extremely concerning”. Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, discussed the matter with both his American counterpart Mike Pompeo and Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to London.
In a statement, the US embassy in London offered its “deepest sympathies” to Mr Dunn’s family and said: “Embassy officials are in close contact with the appropriate British officials on this matter.”
The diplomatic row comes at a sensitive time for the Johnson government, as the prime minister hopes to build bridges with Washington in the hope of forging closer trading and political ties after the UK leaves the EU. While it is unlikely the US will revoke Ms Sacoolas’s diplomatic immunity, a side deal, which would not involve revoking her privileges, may be struck between the two nations in order for Ms Sacoolas to return.
“Diplomatic immunity is designed to protect envoys from harassment by hostile states. This is different,” said Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee. “A family wants to know what happened to the young man who was killed on the road. It would be right for Ms Sacoolas to return to the UK and help them at this moment of grief.”
Mr Trump was involved in another recent transatlantic incident when leaked diplomatic cables showed Kim Darroch, the UK ambassador to the US, had criticised his administration. Lord Darroch later resigned, stating his position had become untenable.