Michel Barnier tells UK to be 'very careful' in Brexit diplomatic status row

Michel Barnier, the EU's Brexit negotiator, speaking at Queen's University in Belfast. Photograph: L

Michel Barnier, the EU's Brexit negotiator, speaking at Queen's University in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA. - Credit: PA

The EU's top Brexit official has warned Downing Street to be "very careful" in how it handles the diplomatic status of the EU's ambassador to London.

Michel Barnier, who brokered a trade deal with Britain on behalf of the EU, said it would be "wise" for the UK to find a solution to the dispute over its refusal to grant João Vale de Almeida full diplomatic status.

Speaking with RTÉ News, Barnier said: "I made this point several times with the British negotiator David Frost in the last few months. I know the temptation of British leaders to speak about the EU as an international organisation. We are much more than an international organisation and the UK knows that fact quite well."

Downing Street says it will grant the EU delegation the "privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively," but stopped short of granting full diplomatic perks because the EU is not a nation-state.

In fact, in the over 140 countries where the EU has a delegation, its ambassador is granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign countries.

Brussels, on the hands, argues it is not a typical international organisation - which Britain is seeking to recognise it as - because it had its own currency, judicial system, and power to make law.

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In a letter by EU's high representative for foreign policy Josep Borrell to the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab, leaked to the BBC, Borrell said: "The arrangements offered do not reflect the specific character of the EU, nor do they respond to the future relationship between the EU and the UK as an important third country.

"It would not grant the customary privileges and immunities for the delegation and its staff. The proposals do not constitute a reasonable basis for reaching an agreement."

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Speaking at an event, Barnier added: "I know the spin, and sometimes more than the spin, of the UK authorities speaking about the EU like an international organisation, but we are not an international organisation like the others.

"We are the union, and the UK took part in this union for more than 47 years.

"I hope that we will be able together to find a clever and objective solution to the status of the EU in London."

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