Christopher Meyer, Vocal British Envoy to the U.S., Dies at 78
Christopher Meyer, the debonair diplomat who served as Britain’s ambassador to Washington from 1997 to 2003 but later argued that his government let itself be suckered into supporting the American invasion of Iraq, died on July 27 at his holiday home in Megeve, in the French Alps. He 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. Meyer had quietly banned the term “special relationship” to describe the alliance between Britain and the United States, arguing that Washington clearly considered its ties to other nations — Israel, for example — to be considerably more vital.
Breaking with many other European nations, Britain became the Bush administration’s chief partner in its invasion of Afghanistan after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and in its support of Washington’s claims that Iraq was developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Meyer, however, maintained, privately at the time and later in an unapologetically indiscreet book titled “D.C. Confidential” (2005), that without sufficient proof that Saddam Hussein possessed those weapons, and lacking both further support from the United Nations and plans to govern Iraq once Hussein was toppled, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr. Bush had prematurely reached an agreement to invade Iraq, which he later said had been “signed in blood,” at the president’s Texas ranch in April 2002.
“History’s verdict,” Mr. Meyer wrote, “looks likely to be that it was terminally flawed both in conception and execution.”
He later acknowledged, though, that Washington might well have gone to war without Britain’s support.
Sparing only a few from reproach, he wrote dismissively of Mr. Blair’s ministers. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott responded by dismissing the former envoy as a “red-socked fop” — a reference to his penchant for flashy hosiery. (Unfazed, Mr. Meyer adopted the Twitter handle @sirsocks, under which he weighed in as recently as a few weeks ago on the Conservative Party leadership race.)
Christopher John Rome Meyer was born on Feb. 22, 1944, in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Thirteen days before he was born, his father, Reginald, a Royal Air Force flight lieutenant, died when his plane was shot down on a bombing mission over Greece. He was raised by his mother, Eve, and his grandmother in Brighton.
He attended boarding school at Lancing College in West Sussex, studied in Paris and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Cambridge. 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 survives 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 Foreign Office in 1966. He was posted in Moscow, Madrid, Brussels and Washington and spent a year at Harvard as a visiting fellow. In 1994 he became press spokesman for 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 encompass Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, Mr. Bush’s squeaker victory in 2000, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan and the prelude to the war in Iraq.
He was knighted in 1998.
In his memoir, Mr. Meyer wrote that Jonathan Powell, Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, had ordered him to get as close as possible to the White House. He got as close as he could in the Bush administration: He played tennis with Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; went white-water rafting with Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary; and befriended his next-door neighbor, Vice President Dick Cheney.
After he retired in 2003, Mr. Meyer served for six years as chairman of his country’s Press Complaints Commission, a self-policing body that he helped strengthen.
He later wrote books and articles and regularly posted on Twitter, where he wondered in 2020 why The New York Times was, as he put it, so unremittingly Anglophobic. “Is it Brexit, where the paper is more royalist than the king for the Remain cause?” he asked. “Is it its loathing of Boris, whom it thinks ludicrously is a mini-Trump?”
He also hosted television documentaries, including a BBC series, “Networks of Power” (2012), in which he sought to identify the attributes that powerful global cities and their influential inhabitants share.
“I thought, this is really interesting — what makes these cities tick? Who makes them tick?” he told The Guardian in 2012. “And I started off with a hypothesis, which I think has been more or less justified by the filming, which was: Perhaps they have more in common with each other than they do with their own countries. Having watched Mumbai, Moscow and Rome, I would say the common trait is an alarming degree of nepotism.”
The real issue, he added, was that “it is your nature to surround yourself with people who you think will advance your interests, with whom you have some essential compatibility, and with whom you get on.”