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Christopher Meyer, Britain’s vocal envoy to the US, dies aged 78

Christopher Mayer, the self-styled diplomat who served as Britain’s ambassador to Washington from 1997 to 2003 but later claimed his government had let himself back the American invasion of Iraq, died on July 27 at his country house in Megeve, in the French Alps. . It was 78.

His death, apparently from a stroke, was confirmed by several officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

As Britain’s envoy from 1997 to 2003, during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Mr Mayer had tacitly banned the term “special relationship” to describe the alliance between Britain and the United States, arguing that Washington was clearly mindful of its ties. for other nations – Israel, for example – to be far more vital.

In a break with many other European nations, Britain became the Bush administration’s main partner in its invasion of Afghanistan after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and in supporting Washington’s claims that Iraq was developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction. .

Mr. Meyer, however, argued, privately at the time and later in a surprisingly incisive book titled “DC Confidential” (2005), that without sufficient proof that Saddam Hussein possessed these weapons and that he had no further support from the United Nations and plans. to rule Iraq once Hussein was toppled, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Bush had prematurely reached an agreement to invade Iraq, which he later said was “signed in blood”, at the president’s Texas ranch in April 2002.

“The verdict of History,” wrote Mr. Meyer, “seems likely to be wholly defective both in conception and execution.”

He later acknowledged, however, that Washington might well have gone to war without Britain’s support.

Sparing only some of the censure, he wrote disparagingly of Mr Blair’s ministers. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott responded by dismissing the former envoy as a “red sock” – a reference to his penchant for fancy socks. (Foolishly, Mr Meyer has adopted the Twitter handle @sirsocks, which he stood for only a few weeks ago in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party.)

Christopher John Rome Meyer was born on 22 February 1944 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Thirteen days before he was born, his father, Reginald, a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, died when his plane was shot down on a bombing mission over Greece. He was raised by his mother, Eva, and his grandmother in Brighton.

He attended boarding school at Lancing College in West Sussex, studied in Paris and graduated with a history degree from Cambridge University. He then studied at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.

In 1997 he married Catherine Laylle Volkmann, who ran Parents and Abducted Children Together, an international campaign to allow divorced and separated parents access to their children. She survived him, along with two sons, James and William, from his marriage to Françoise Hedges, which ended in divorce. three stepsons; and a grandson.

Mr. Meyer joined the State Department in 1966. He was posted to Moscow, Madrid, Brussels and Washington and spent a year at Harvard as a visiting fellow. In 1994 he became press secretary to John Major, the Conservative Prime Minister.

He served briefly as ambassador to Germany in 1997 before being appointed envoy to Washington later that year. His tenure as Britain’s longest-serving post-World War II ambassador to Washington would include the impeachment of Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush’s hard-fought victory in 2000, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan and the prelude to war. in Iraq.

He was knighted in 1998.

In his memoirs, Mr Mayer wrote that Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s chief of staff, had ordered him to get as close to the White House as possible. He got as close as he could to the Bush administration: He played tennis with Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. rafted with Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. and befriended his next-door neighbor, Vice President Dick Cheney.

After retiring in 2003, Mr. Meyer served for six years as chairman of his country’s Press Complaints Commission, a self-policing body he helped strengthen.

He later wrote books and articles and posted regularly on Twitter, where he wondered in 2020 why the New York Times was, as he put it, so relentlessly Anglophobic. “Is Brexit where the paper is more royal than the king for the cause of Remain?” asked. “Is it her distaste for Boris, who she ridiculously thinks is a mini-Trump?”

He has also presented television documentaries, including a BBC series, Networks of Power (2012), in which he sought to identify the characteristics shared by powerful global cities and their powerful residents.

“I thought, this is really interesting — what makes these cities stand out? Who makes them check?’ he said The guardian in 2012. “And I started with a hypothesis, which I think was more or less vindicated by filming, which was: Maybe they have more in common with each other than with their own countries. Having watched Mumbai, Moscow and Rome, I would say the common denominator is an alarming degree of nepotism.’

The real issue, he added, was that “it’s in your nature to surround yourself with people who you think will further your interests, with whom you have some substantial compatibility, and with whom you get along.”

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