A Tory MP has blasted the government as “petty” after a row erupted over the EU ambassador’s status, as experts warned negotiations with the bloc are far from over.
The EU’s new ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida, has not been given the same status as other diplomats, with the Foreign Office declining to treat an international organisation in the same way as nation states.
This means De Almedia will not be guaranteed the same rights to diplomatic immunity and other benefits outlined in the Vienna Convention that are granted to ambassadors from nation states.
Brussels said the EU’s 143 delegations and staff in other parts of the world had been accorded a status equivalent to countries’ embassies.
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood described the row as a “silly spat” and insisted the UK should be “better than this”.
Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said: “This is simply petty.
“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.”
The diplomatic row comes as the UK and EU are still negotiating some aspects of the future relationship between the two parties, despite the trade deal that was agreed on Christmas Eve.
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Due to the deal’s extremely tight implementation schedule, several items were left unresolved, with both sides simply agreeing to fix the issues after the deal came into effect.
Joe Marshall from the Institute of Government said: “Various deadlines, delayed Brexit changes and ongoing dialogues mean the UK-EU relationship will continue to evolve over the months and years ahead.”
Issues range from the key financial services sector’s EU access, to the Northern Ireland protocol, to citizens’ rights.
Simon Usherwood, professor of politics at the University of Surrey and a specialist in UK-EU relations, said there’s still a “huge pile of negotiating still to be done”.
He criticised the latest spat, pointing out that barely anyone would have been upset if the EU’s ambassador had been given full rights, and saying the government has made an issue where there didn’t need to be one.
Usherwood said the move was in line with the government’s attempt to close down relations with the EU, but added: “Neglect of relations is not, and cannot be, any lasting solution.”
He also said the Trump administration had tried to treat the EU in the same way but eventually backtracked.
Sir David Lidington, who was effectively deputy prime minister under Theresa May, said he hoped the Foreign Office “doesn’t pick a fight on this”.
Tory peer Lord Barwell, who was May’s chief of staff, said the move was “difficult to understand” and that “the UK treating EU diplomats differently than every other independent sovereign state does suggests there is something different about our relationship with the EU”.
“Strange position for Brexiteers to take,” he added.
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the UK – which, as a member of the EU, was a signature to the Lisbon Treaty, which established the European External Action Service diplomatic network – was “well aware of the EU’s status in external relations”.
“Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part,” he said.
Stano added: “The European Union has 143 delegations, equivalent to diplomatic missions, around the world.
“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.”
Downing Street said the EU delegation would receive the “privileges and immunities” they needed to carry out their work in the UK.
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