London: Post-Brexit Britain plans to downgrade the status of the European Union's first ambassador to the UK, treating it now as an international organisation rather than a country.
Britain's Government has rejected EU demands to offer João Vale de Almeida the trappings of statehood, drawing the ire of Brussels and some Tory MPs, who branded the decision "petty".
European Union Ambassador to Britain Joao Vale de Almeida.Credit:AP
London said he would be afforded similar privileges, such as diplomatic immunity and passports. A senior Government source said: "The EU views itself as a state. The UK believes it is an international organisation. Someone in the EU's mission has got the huff and briefed a load of fake news about how he won't have the same privileges as others – he will, his team will and so will the EU's office in the UK."
Senior figures in government believe the row is more about bruised egos, as representatives of international organisations do not get to present their credentials to the Queen as ambassadors do.
The UK and EU are in negotiations over the framework of the new diplomatic relationship after the transition period ended on December 31.
The stand-off over status has been bubbling away since May but surfaced when Josep Borrell, the EU's chief diplomat, wrote to the Government on the matter, the BBC reported. EU foreign ministers are expected to meet in Brussels on Monday.
The European Commission said its 143 delegations elsewhere in the world had a status equivalent to embassies under the Vienna Convention, which governs international diplomacy.
Donald Trump reversed a similar downgrade to the EU's ambassador to the US in 2019 after criticism.
British sources denied the move was designed to create leverage in any UK-EU relations. Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said Britain would be "wise" to reconsider. "We are not an international organisation, we are a Union and the UK took part in the Union for more than 47 years," he said.
A spokesman for the EU's foreign affairs service said the UK was well aware of the EU's status as it signed the Lisbon Treaty establishing the bloc's diplomatic network. "Nothing has changed since the UK's exit to justify any change in stance on the UK's part," he said.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I am not going to pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations. The EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.'
Tobias Ellwood, a senior Tory MP and chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, insisted the UK was "better than this". He said: "This is simply petty." Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby was yesterday made UK ambassador to the EU.
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