The European Union appointed its first post-Brexit ambassador to the United Kingdom on Friday (24 January), choosing one of the most experienced officials on the foreign affairs services’ roster to oversee relations and the implementation of the withdrawal agreement after 31 January.
Portuguese diplomat João Vale de Almeida will take up his role as the first-ever head of the EU’s delegation in the UK on the first day of February, when the country’s membership of the bloc formally lapses.
The EU maintains delegations in countries that are not members of the bloc, like Turkey and Canada. At midnight on Friday, the UK will share that third-country status.
A veteran of EU diplomacy, Vale de Almeida was until last year ambassador to the United Nations in New York, having also served as ambassador to the United States between 2010 and 2015. During his time in Washington, he helped launch the doomed TTIP trade talks between the EU and the US.
He also held a number of high-profile positions in Brussels, as former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s main adviser and director-general of what was then known as the Commission’s external relations department.
A journalist by training and former spokesperson, Vale de Almeida was Barroso’s point-man on the Lisbon Treaty negotiations, which eventually led to the creation of the bloc’s current foreign policy division, the European External Action Service (EEAS).
After his appointment was announced, Vale de Almeida said he was “honoured to have been chosen” for the job, tweeting that his priorities will be “EU interests” and working with his UK counterparts to implement the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Notable figures who congratulated the Portuguese diplomat included former EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström, who said Vale de Almeida would be “key to build[ing] close bridges to post-Brexit UK”.
Former deputy Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand said that he is “a great colleague and the right man at the right time in the right place! EU interests will be well looked after in London.”
Part of Vale de Almeida’s duties will also focus on developing what the future relationship between Brussels and London will look like once the Brexit transition ends on 31 December.
Talks are expected to kick off in earnest in late February under the watch of Michel Barnier, who continues in his role as the Commission’s top Brexit official. The Council also announced on Friday that it has set up a working group dedicated to supporting the negotiations.
In the decision, the Council said the new group, which will be made up of member state civil servants, will assist on all matters relating to the upcoming talks, as well any other issues that might be tied to Brexit.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]