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12th Aug 2022

EU warns UK to be 'very careful' in diplomatic status row

  • The Europe House HQ in London, home to the EU delegation to the UK, formerly known as the EU representation. The building itself was formerly the Conservative Party's head office (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's top Brexit official, Michel Barnier on Thursday (21 January) warned London that the UK should be "very careful" how it handles the status of the EU's ambassador to London in the wake of Brexit.

The UK has raised eyebrows in Brussels and at home over its reluctance to give full diplomatic privileges to João Vale de Almeida, the EU's ambassador to the UK.

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Barnier, who was the chief Brexit negotiator for the EU and has been appointed as a special Brexit advisor to the EU Commission, said at an event that "it would be wise for the UK to find a clever solution".

The UK wants to treat the EU's London representation as merely an international organisation, and argues that the EU ambassador and his staff should not have the privileges and immunities granted to diplomats under the Vienna Convention.

In the over 140 countries where the EU has a delegation, its ambassador is granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign countries.

The EU has argued (in a position which was supported by the UK when it was a member), that the bloc is not a classical international organisation, because it has its own currency, judicial system and has the power to make laws.

"I know the spin, and sometimes more than the spin, of the UK authorities speaking about the EU like an international organisation, but we are not an international organisation like the others. We are the union, and the UK took part in this union for more than 47 years," Barnier said.

"I hope that we will be able together to find a clever and objective solution to the status of the EU in London," he added.

The EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has written to the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, to express his "serious concerns", the BBC reported.

"The arrangements offered do not reflect the specific character of the EU, nor do they respond to the future relationship between the EU and the UK as an important third country," Borrell said in the letter seen by the BBC.

"This is simply petty," the Conservative MP and defence committee chairman, Tobias Ellwood, tweeted.

"[US president Joe] Biden commits to strengthening alliances and we engage in silly spats which will not help strengthen security and trade cooperation. We are better than this," he added.

"Feels petty and, just as important, at odds with the PM's [Boris Johnson] desire to move on from these arguments and try to bring the country back together," former chief of staff to prime minister Theresa May, Gavin Barwell tweeted.

He said it was "difficult to understand why the government is refusing to give EU diplomats full diplomatic status, when the UK used to support this, and every other country does it.

The UK's move echoed similar action by the Trump administration when it downgraded the diplomatic status of the EU mission for nearly a year.

After a backlash from the EU, including London at the time, the US reversed its position in March 2019.

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