Post-Brexit tensions look to have found another place to flare up after a disagreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union over the status of the EU’s senior representative in the UK.
In the 142 other countries where the EU has representation, the group’s ambassador is granted status similar to that of the ambassador of a sovereign state, which carries with it diplomatic immunity and certain privileges, as set out in the Vienna Convention.
However, the UK is currently refusing to give that status to Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s highest official in London, claiming it would set a precedent for non-sovereign bodies.
The EU’s counter-argument is that it is not just any other international organization, as it has lawmaking powers, a judicial system and currency.
“The EU has 143 delegations, equivalent to diplomatic missions, around the world,” a European Commission spokesperson told the BBC.
“Without exception, all host states have accepted to grant these delegations and their staff a status equivalent to that of diplomatic missions of states under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and the UK is well aware of this fact.”
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, has written to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressing “serious concerns” about the row, and the topic is likely to be on the agenda when EU foreign ministers have their first post-Brexit transition meeting next week.
“Engagement continues with the EU on the long-term arrangements for the EU delegation to the UK,” said a Foreign Office representative. “While discussions are still ongoing, it would not be appropriate for us to speculate on the detail of an eventual agreement.”
The UK’s stance has come in for criticism both at home and abroad.
Senior EU diplomat Kristian Schmidt tweeted “reciprocity is a key principle in international relations and the UK has a full ambassador accredited to the EU”.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood tweeted that it was “simply petty. (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.”
Gavin Barwell was chief of staff under former prime minister Theresa May, who has become increasingly vocal in criticism of her Downing Street successor, Boris Johnson. Barwell tweeted that it was “difficult to understand why the government is refusing to give EU diplomats full diplomatic status when a) we used to support this b) every other country does it and c) on Christmas Eve the PM spoke warmly about what close friends we would be”.