The vice-president of the European Commission and current foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has complained about Britain’s decision to refuse the European Union full diplomatic status following the end of the Brexit transition period.
“It’s not a friendly signal, the first one UK has sent us immediately after leaving the EU” said Mr Borrell. “If things have to continue like this there are no good prospects.”
Nick Gutteridge, the top European affairs journalist for The Sun, quoted the figure saying: “We won’t accept the UK will be the only country in the world that doesn’t recognise the delegation of the EU as the equivalent of a diplomatic mission. We expect the UK to treat the EU delegation accordingly and without delay.”
The move is not unprecedented, however. In 2019, US President Donald Trump similarly downgraded the bloc’s diplomatic status.
Borrell’s intervention follows impotent tough talk from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who now serves as the European Commission’s Head of the UK Task Force.
Speaking to a pro-EU Irish event last week, Barnier said: “I hope we will be able together to find a clever and objective solution to the status of the EU in London. I think it would be wise in my view for the UK to find a clever solution.”
But his remarks took a sinister turn when he tried to add an embarrassing edge of threat. “We will see what will be the final decision of the UK on this point, but they have to be very careful.”
The row hinges on whether the EU’s representative to Britain, João Vale de Almeida, will receive full diplomatic status or a more reduced range of privileges as the envoy for an international organisation rather than a sovereign state.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson clarified the UK’s thinking by saying that “it’s a matter of fact that the EU is a collective of nations, but it’s not a state… in its own right.””
Barnier, speaking to an Irish broadcaster, said: “We are much more than an international organisation and the UK knows that fact quite well.”
That news will shock many British pro-Europeans, who have long insisted (either through naivety or dishonesty) that the European Union is a mere trading pact with no ambition to be treated on the same level as a sovereign state.