Biden faces calls to stand down by former UK ambassador to the US after ‘historically bad performance’

President Joe Biden has faced calls to stand down by the former UK ambassador to the US after a “historically bad performance” in his TV debate with Donald Trump.

Mr Biden and former US president Trump went head to head for the first debate of the 2024 presidential election on Thursday night.

The current president’s performance added to concerns about his age and mental fitness as he struggled with his lines, mumbled and, at times, appeared confused.

During one particularly excruciating moment he lost his train of thought while discussing healthcare, before pausing, and saying, “We finally beat Medicare”. Mr Trump responded: “He did beat Medicare. Beat it to death.”

At another point when Mr Biden trailed off while talking about immigration, Mr Trump responded: “I don’t know if he knows what he said, either.”

Lord Kim Darroch, who served as British ambassador to the United States between January 2016 and December 2019, urged Mr Biden to stand down.

He said on Radio 4’s Today programme: “Joe Biden should stand aside. This was a historically bad performance. He was inaudible, incoherent and lost his train of thought several times.

“Some of his answers simply made no sense. The one “we have beaten Medicaid” will be repeated a thousand times between now and the election. He should stand down - it’s very hard to see him winning now.”

Lord Darroch was forced to quit his stateside role in July 2019 – before Boris Johnson took the reins as Prime Minister – after frank diplomatic cables referring to Donald Trump were leaked.

Lord Kim Darroch (Getty/Capitol File Magazine)
Lord Kim Darroch (Getty/Capitol File Magazine)

In the leaked correspondence, he referred to Mr Trump’s White House as “inept” and “dysfunctional”.

Lord Darroch’s intervention comes as Democrats in the United States attempted to contain the fallout from the US president’s faltering performance, amid calls for him to step aside.

“I think the panic had set in,” David Axelrod, a longtime advisor to former US president Barack Obama, said on CNN immediately after the debate about Mr Biden‘s performance.

“And I think you’re going to hear discussions that, I don’t know will lead to anything, but there are going to be discussions about whether he should continue.”

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

David Plouffe, who ran Mr Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, told CNN: “The concern level is quite high. Biden is behind narrowly right now.

“He is the one who has to change the equation here and the biggest barrier that is keeping his ceiling too low is concerns about his age.

He added: “They are three years apart, but they seemed about 30 years apart tonight.”

Writing for The Independent, Jon Sopel added to the growing chorus of voices urging Mr Biden to step aside.

He said: “President Biden managed to stay upright for the 90 minutes of the debate and didn’t fall asleep; as he shuffled on and off stage he didn’t trip over. He made his way to the lectern successfully.


But – honestly – that is about as good as it gets. His voice was thin and reedy – and at one point, when he was talking about billionaires paying more tax, he had a complete brain freeze and became totally incoherent and ended up talking about Medicare. It was horrid. Beyond awful.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer, was asked on BBC radio whether he was concerned about Mr Biden after the debate.

“I’ve got enough on my hands with our own election campaign at the moment...The relationship between the UK and the US is strong, it’s historic, and obviously, it’s above the individuals,” he said.

One senior Democratic strategist said it would be unprecedented for an incumbent to pull out this late in the election cycle, but that there would be calls for Biden to do just that.

California governor Gavin Newsom – who could be a leading Democratic alternative if Mr Biden stepped aside – dismissed the notion that Biden could be replaced.

Vice president Kamala Harris conceded that Mr Biden had a “slow start” but argued that his record over 3-1/2 years as president outweighed one 90-minute event.