Inaugural meeting between EU and UK officials postponed due to ambassador row

Sources say delay is a tit-for-tat move amid long-running dispute over diplomatic status

The EU’s Berlaymont building in Brussels. File photograph: Getty Images

The EU’s Berlaymont building in Brussels. File photograph: Getty Images

 

An inaugural meeting between the UK’s new head of mission to Brussels and a senior EU official in Brussels has been postponed in response to the status of the bloc’s ambassador in London being downgraded.

Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, who was formally appointed this month to represent the UK in dealings with the EU institutions, was due to meet the chief aide to European Council president Charles Michel on Thursday.

The introductory meeting has been postponed for the time being by the EU, in what sources said was a tit-for-tat move over a long-running dispute about the status of the EU ambassador.

Downing Street has been refusing to grant João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to the UK, and his 25-strong mission the privileges and immunities afforded to diplomats under the Vienna convention.

The British government’s approach on this issue has stirred anger in Brussels as the EU has 142 other delegations around the world, each of which has full diplomatic status.

Last week the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said the move was “not a friendly signal”, adding: “If things continue like this there are no good prospects.”

The meeting with Mr Michel’s chief aide, Frederic Bernard, was a courtesy before a formal presentation by Mr Croisdale-Appleby of his credentials to Mr Michel.

The news website Politico reported, however, that the UK had yet to make the first step, known as a demande d’agréation (request for approval), ahead of such a ceremony.

Precedent

The UK foreign office’s position on Mr Vale de Almeida’s status is that it does not want to set a precedent by treating an international body in the same way as a nation state. It argues such a move would lead to a proliferation of other international organisations seeking diplomatic status.

It is claimed the lower status the UK government is willing to grant the EU’s delegation would not impact on the ability of their staff to carry out their job. It is claimed that the chief difference is that Mr Vale de Almeida would miss out on an audience with the queen.

Mr Croisdale-Appleby, a former ambassador to Colombia, was deputy to UK chief negotiator David Frost in the recent trade and security talks with the bloc.

A UK government spokesperson declined to comment.

A European Commission spokesperson said: “We are continuing our engagement, we are expecting and hoping that our friends in London will be able to find soon a satisfactory solution based on the reciprocity, and the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

“When it comes to intentions and the details of the process, this is not really our hobby to communicate or to comment on ongoing processes from whatever angle. But the bottom line is that we hope the issue will be solved in a satisfactory way as soon as it was resolved in 142 other cases all around the world.” – Guardian