How did the EU and UK end up beginning their future relationship with a row over diplomatic protocol?
Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, Britain’s newly appointed envoy to the EU, has been given the cold shoulder in Brussels while the UK refuses to grant full diplomatic privileges to the EU’s representation in London.
UK officials have indicated that discussions are ongoing with Brussels — a sign that a way is being sought out of the dispute that began when Britain took a stance out of step with the more than 140 other countries where Brussels has diplomatic missions.
“We continue to engage with the EU on long-term arrangements for the delegation. Negotiations are ongoing,” said one official, adding: “This is not a settled matter.”
But there is genuine bafflement on the EU side as to why Britain decided to flex its post-Brexit sovereignty this way. “We are not going to let this go,” said one EU official.
While the row over the exact status of EU ambassador João Vale de Almeida and his team in London is in one sense very much removed from real-world affairs, it is an avoidable spat at a critical time — and one that could have tangible repercussions.
Someone uniquely well positioned to have a view on that is Julian King, a veteran former UK ambassador and the country’s last-ever EU commissioner. Speaking on Thursday, he said he hoped it would be possible to find a way over this “bump in the road”, because “if not, it does pose problems”.
“I think it does matter because ambassadors do play an important role,” Sir Julian told an online event hosted by the Brussels-based EU-UK Forum. “Anything that gets in the way of that, I think is very unwelcome.”
Instead, in a week in which Brussels has pressured a vaccine company to take coronavirus shots from UK factories and send them to the continent, Mr Croisdale-Appleby’s access to the EU’s corridors of power is on hold.
EU officials confirmed that a planned meeting between the head of the new UK mission to the EU and Frédéric Bernard, head of European Council president Charles Michel’s cabinet, has been indefinitely postponed because of the spat over diplomatic rights.
It won’t prove an isolated incident. “Since our EU ambassador is getting a different treatment from his peers in the UK we need political clarification from London before setting up meetings with officials here,” said one EU official.
Britain’s stance on the issue may have something to tell us about the government’s worldview as it embarks on its post-Brexit journey.
Maros Sefcovic, the EU commissioner tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Brexit trade deal, noted to the FT this week that the UK, as a former member state, “knows pretty well” that the EU is not “just an international organisation”, but was still trying to treat it as one.
By taking a position at odds with the rest of the international community, Britain may have been thinking about the world it wishes to see, rather than the world as it is.It also aped Donald Trump, whose administration briefly downgraded the status of the EU ambassador to Washington in 2018.
Sir Julian noted that the upshot was that Gordon Sondland, then-US ambassador to the EU, was “basically frozen out of contact with the institutions for quite a long time”.
“I don’t think that’s productive either way, so I hope we’re going to be able to get beyond this quickly,” he said.
Fines related to breaches of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation have jumped almost 40 per cent in the past year. The uptick seems to be because “regulators have been testing the limits of their powers” according to Ewa Kurowska-Tober of DLA Piper’s Data Protection & Security Group. Italy, Germany and France have issued the most fines, including a €50m fine from France against Google. (chart via FT)
The EMA will give its long-awaited decision on the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
In the Hague, the Dutch court of appeal will deliver its verdict on a landmark case against oil company Shell for causing environmental damage in Nigeria.