An inaugural meeting between the UK’s new head of mission to Brussels and senior EU officials 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 the 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.
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 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”. “If things continue like this there are no good prospects,” he added.
The meeting with Michel’s chief aide, Frédéric Bernard, was a courtesy before a formal presentation by Croisdale-Appleby of his credentials to 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.
The Foreign Office’s position on 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. Other international organisations would then apply, it is argued, leading to a proliferation of others seeking diplomatic status.
It is claimed the lower status the 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 Vale de Almeida would miss out on an audience with the Queen.
Croisdale-Appleby, a former ambassador to Colombia, was deputy to David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator in the recent trade and security talks. 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.”