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Europe
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Politics

UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status

  • UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status
    João Vale de Almeida UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status
Region:
Europe
Category:
Politics
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By The Guardian
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Foreign Office says EU should not be treated as nation state, despite 142 countries granting bloc this status

 

A near-yearlong row about the UK’s refusal to grant full diplomatic status of the EU mission to the UK has worsened, with the leak of letters revealing the EU foreign affairs chief has serious concerns about the status being given to EU officials in the UK.

The issue is likely to be discussed at a EU foreign affairs council on Monday, the first such meeting of member states’ foreign ministers since the post-Brexit transition ended.

The UK has been insisting it will not give the EU ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, and his 25-strong mission the privileges and immunities afforded to diplomats under the Vienna Convention.

The Foreign Office says it would set a precedent by treating an international body in the same way as a nation state. Other international organisations would then apply, it says, leading to a proliferation of other such bodies seeking diplomatic status.

International organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation are on the UK diplomatic list, but not granted full diplomatic immunity.

Although the UK insists its position is not born of Euroscepticism, the UK is virtually unique in taking this position. The bloc enjoys full diplomatic status with 142 other countries around the world where it has delegations, and where its ambassadors are all granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign nations.

Under Donald Trump, the US Trump downgraded the diplomatic status of the EU mission for nearly a year, but then reversed its position in March 2019.

The UK position reflects a wider ambivalence within the UK about holding discussions with the EU over a common foreign and security policy post-Brexit.

The UK has since Brexit set most store by holding discussions either bilaterally with the remaining 27 EU member states, or, for instance on the issue of Iran, holding discussions in special E3 format alongside the other two European major powers, France and Germany. The E3 recently held collective discussions on the Iran nuclear deal with Gulf state foreign ministers.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator with the UK, said: “I know the spin. Sometimes more than the spin from the UK authorities speaking about the EU as like an international organisations, but we are […] the union and the UK took part in the union for more than 47 years.

“I hope that we will be able to get up to find a clever and objective solution to the statute of the EU in London. I think it would be very wise in my view for the UK to find a clever solution.”

EU officials have privately accused the Foreign Office of hypocrisy because when the EU’s foreign service – known as the External Action Service – was set up in 2010 as a result of the Lisbon treaty, the UK signed up to proposals that EU diplomats be granted the “privileges and immunities equivalent to those referred to in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961”. The UK could argue it is no longer bound to this agreement since it has left the EU.

At the time of the reinstatement of full diplomatic status by the Trump administration, the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, said in the statement that the EU was “a uniquely important organisation, and one of America’s most valuable partners in ensuring global security and prosperity”.

He added: “Europe’s security and success are inextricably linked to that of the United States, and this level of engagement and cooperation should be recognised appropriately in all settings.”

The two most senior EU commission officials will attend the meeting of the G7 in Cornwall in June as participating members alongside France, Germany and Italy.

Lord Adonis, a strongly pro-European Labour peer, said: “Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have decided not just to leave the EU but to insult it – denying full diplomatic status to the EU ambassador being the latest insult. Very unwise.

“The Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli once wrote: ‘People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge.’”

The EU mission in the UK is active in trying to explain EU thinking, including most recently on how the City of London will be treated post-Brexit. The emphasis of the mission since its inception has been on building cooperation between the UK and EU.

Almeida is regarded as a very senior EU diplomat, having previously served as EU ambassador to the UN from 2015 to 2019, and EU ambassador to the US from 2010 to 2014.