Brexit row: Brussels furious as Boris Johnson delays decision over EU embassy in London

Brexit row: Brussels furious as Boris Johnson delays decision over EU embassy in London

Brussels officials are concerned that a move to establish a diplomatic mission in the capital is showing signs of breaking down. The bloc expected to be granted the status without question – under the Vienna Convention – after Boris Johnson signed the EU Withdrawal Agreement last October. The feud came as talks between London and Brussels on a free-trade deal have reached an impasse.

Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier last week exchanged angry letters as relations hit a new low.

The Prime Minister’s sherpa accused Brussels of offering Britain a sub-standard trade deal, while the Frenchman warned talks were as risk of “stalemate”.

Negotiations over the EU’s diplomatic status in London are separate from the future relationship talks.

The Foreign Office and the bloc’s External Action Service, its foreign policy arm, are currently overseeing the process, which risks jeopardising the two sides’ future relationship.

An EU spokesman said the bloc’s “status in external relations and its subsequent diplomatic status is amply recognised by countries and international organisations around the world”.

“We expect the United Kingdom to treat the EU delegation accordingly and without delay,” he added.

The EU enjoys full diplomatic status at all of its 143 missions around the world, including embassies in Washington and Beijing.

The EU spokesman added the Government was “well aware” of the treatment of other EU missions abroad and how they are recognised as equivalent to those of nation states.

He said: “Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part.

“The status of the EU delegation in London is not part of the negotiations on the future agreement with the UK.”

Earlier this month, EU officials were told the bloc was hopeful in establishing a base in London by the end of last year.

But talks faltered because of the Government’s lack of parliamentary majority to push through the necessary legislation.

However talks remain deadlocked despite Mr Johnson securing an 80-seat majority Last December.

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The coronavirus pandemic has also added an extra delay to the negotiations as officials prioritise their fight against the deadly disease.

External Action Service officials were told that talks had now resumed and there was now “no reason why this should be a problem”.

But diplomatics fear the negotiations could become “stuck” again as the UK holds off on granting full diplomatic status under the future relationship deal ins concluded.

The Government said discussions were ongoing to decide the “appropriate arrangements” for the EU’s delegation.

A spokesman said: “Now we have left the EU, discussions continue with the EU on the appropriate arrangements for the EU delegation in the UK when the transition period ends on December 31, 2020.”

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Talks must be completed by the end of the year when Mr Johnson has committed to leaving the EU’s single market and customs union.

The Government has also rejected previous attempts by Brussels to establish a permanent representation in Belfast, as a de facto monitoring post to ensure checks are being carried out on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Europe House, the EU’s delegation in London, is located at 32 Smith Square – the former headquarters of the Conservative party.

Leading Brexiteers have called for Brussels to hand back the iconic location, which was the backdrop for three of Margaret Thatcher’s election day celebrations.

Much to the dismay of Conservative eurosceptics, the party was forced to sell it back in 2007 to plug a black hole in its finances.

Published at Mon, 25 May 2020 09:33:00 +0000