The Privilege of Rank

5 March: Former SIS Chief Sir Richard Dearlove has written an open letter to the UK’s Daily Telegraph along with 33 pro-Brexit academics and business leaders. The letter praises Brexit as offering “immediate opportunities” and criticises Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal as “disastrous”.

Dearlove’s right-wing political affiliations are no secret. He has been described as “the hardest of hard right nutters” by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. In October 2018, he tried to spike Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of ever becoming Prime Minister by giving an interview to Sky News in which he said he was “troubled” by Corbyn’s past because “he has enthusiastically associated himself with groups and interests which I would not say are friends of the British nation…”. Coming from a member of the public this might have been a fairly innocuous statement. Coming from the former head of the Secret Intelligence Service this could be damning, if not fatal to Corbyn’s chances – and it was intended to be.

Even those on the right of British politics are often not far enough across the political spectrum for Sir Richard. In November 2018, he claimed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would “surrender British national security by subordinating UK defence forces to military EU control.” This assertion was promptly shot down by those who pointed out that although there would be continued co-operation with Europe, the UK was actually leaving the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, the European Defence Agency and all other EU defence structures. Of course, this is one reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin is such a fan of Brexit: it divides his enemies. It is a little disconcerting to find Putin and Dearlove in the same camp.

But even this wasn’t enough for Sir Richard: In January 2019, he returned to the attack and claimed that Theresa May would “threaten the national security of the country” if she pushed ahead with her Brexit deal. This is an astounding allegation against a serving Conservative Prime Minister, especially from a person of Dearlove’s seniority. Perhaps he was seeking revenge: In December 2018, Dearlove became the first ever former ‘C’ to be openly reprimanded by a sitting Prime Minister.

There are various allegations that Dearlove is doing a great deal of damage. For some, he is guilty of utter hypocrisy in that he allows himself a licence to speak on political matters which he would never allow to his former staff. For others, it is his naked allegiance to one particular side. Craig Murray (cited above) has said of Sir Richard: “That MI6 can be headed by as extreme a figure as Dearlove, underlines the threat that the security services pose to any progressive movement in [British] politics.”

Of course, Murray has his critics as well, some of whom claim that he has a giant axe to grind following his dismissal from the Foreign Office in 2004 (ironically for speaking to the media). Murray may indeed have put the case too forcefully. However, there can be little doubt that Dearlove’s continual outspoken pronouncements must tend to undermine public confidence in the political neutrality of the UK’s intelligence services.

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