LONDON – Britain has sparked a post-Brexit spat with the European Union by declining to grant the bloc’s first-ever ambassador to the country full diplomatic status.
Joao Vale de Almeida is the 27-nation EU’s envoy to the U.K., which left the bloc last year. The EU says he should be given the same status as a national ambassador, like the rest of the bloc's 143 envoys around the world.
But the British government says the EU is an international organization, rather than a country, and has not agreed to give Vale de Almeida the full rights accorded to ambassadors under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations.
While both sides said Thursday that no final decision has been reached, they sent chilly signals about the dispute in coolly diplomatic language.
“The EU’s status in external relations and its subsequent diplomatic status is amply recognized by countries and international organizations around the world, and we expect the United Kingdom to treat the EU Delegation accordingly and without delay,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said.
Stano noted that Britain "was cognizant and supportive of this status while it was a member of the European Union.
“Nothing has changed since the U.K.’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the U.K.’s part,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, said the Foreign Office was in talks with the EU about “the long-term arrangements for the EU delegation in the U.K.”
"I am not going to pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations,” he said.
The Foreign Office said in a statement that “the EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the U.K. effectively.”
The U.K. government didn't say whether that amounted to full diplomatic mission status. Britain argues that representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations have “similar” privileges and immunities, including immunity from prosecution and exemption from some taxes.
Tobias Ellwood, a lawmaker with the governing Conservative Party who heads Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the government was being “petty.”
Ellwood said that 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,” he said.
Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this story.