The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, insisted on Monday (25 January) that the EU and UK would resolve a diplomatic row over the status of the bloc’s ambassador to London, though he warned that the UK’s intransigence was “not a friendly signal”.
A row has developed because UK foreign minister Dominic Raab has insisted that Boris Johnson’s government will not grant the EU’s ambassador to London, Joao Vale Almeida, one of the EU’s most senior diplomats, full diplomatic privileges on the grounds that the EU is not a nation state.
Instead, the UK wants to treat the EU delegation as representatives of an international organisation.
Speaking on Monday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Borrell said there was “clear unity” among EU ministers on the diplomatic row, which he described as “not a friendly signal”.
“If things have to continue like this, then there are no good prospects,” he said.
However, Borrell added that “we are confident that we can clear this issue with our friends in a satisfactory manner”.
Without the full protection of the Vienna Convention, diplomats do not benefit from immunity from detention, criminal jurisdiction and taxation.
The UK’s position has prompted an angry reaction from the EU which has pointed out that its 143 national delegations across the world have all been given full diplomatic privileges by the host government.
Last week, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who is now a special adviser to the European Commission president on UK matters, warned that the UK should be “very careful” on the issue.
The row is the latest in a series of diplomatic spats that have run alongside the talks on a new EU-UK trade agreement. A year ago, the UK argued that the European Commission should not be entitled to have an official presence in Northern Ireland after Brexit.
During the trade talks, the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, ruffled feathers by repeatedly referring to the EU as “your organisation” in talks with Barnier.
Borrell said the EU is “not asking for anything new or for special status. We expect the UK to treat the EU delegations accordingly and without delay. Without a single exception all host states have agreed to give diplomatic status under the Vienna convention. The UK is very well aware of that”.
“We will not accept that the UK is the only country in the world that doesn’t recognise the European Union delegation,” the EU’s chief diplomat concluded.
In return, EU foreign ministers could retaliate by downgrading the status of the incoming head of the UK’s Mission in Brussels, Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, who is taking over the position from Tim Barrow.
The UK has given Croisdale-Appleby the same diplomatic level – Grade 3 – as its missions to Paris and Berlin, though that is lower than the designation given to its delegation in Washington DC.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]