The ink is barely dry on the Christmas-timed Trade Deal with the EU. A few important aspects are still to be sorted, hundreds of industries to be considered when creating the actual agreements, let alone the real red tape when several arrangements (aviation, Northern Ireland, etc.) expire in six months. GB needs all the goodwill it can get, both from its own back benchers and especially the Europeans. And what does Westminster do in its first encounter with European politicians post-Brexit?
It shows them the finger.
The European Union has embassies in 143 countries. These are real diplomatic missions with all the rights and privileges under the Vienna Convention of 1961. In 2010, Great Britain was happy to sign up to the External Action Service, the EU’s equivalent to the Foreign Office, including the proviso that European diplomats will be afforded privileges equivalent to that of above mentioned Convention. Now that the UK is out, the EU would like to establish diplomatic relations with this country, as is customary in a civilised world. Only to be told by the British Foreign Office that their representative will not be afforded diplomatic status since the EU is an organisation, not a state, and the Convention does not apply.
Can you say petty?
Joao Vale de Almeida became the first EU representative to Great Britain when the transition period began a year ago. Only last November, all in good time, the Foreign Office finally offered an explanation as to why he and his staff still haven’t received full diplomatic status. Apparently the thinking is that if the EU gets to have a diplomatic mission, other “organisations” might demand the same. Yeah, right; the UN, the WHO, NATO are apparently all lining up to have their “embassy” on this medium-sized island at the edge of the continent. No other country is seeing the EU as an “organisation,” on the contrary. Granting diplomatic status is based on reciprocity, so you invite one of them to you and get to send one of yours over there. Every country understands that principle, not one of the current 143 has even considered the notion of not having an EU ambassador.
It does, however, fit well with the idea most Brexiteers seem to have of the European Union. Or, should I say, their lack of understanding of European realpolitik. This here is one example, Theresa May’s charm offensive in her last days to get her version of the Brexit deal through in Europe is another. She travelled far and wide to have one-on-one conversations with European premiers, trying to convince them individually to support her deal. But who all told her the same thing: “Talk to Barnier; he’s the EU representative in this.” What she didn’t and Brexiteers still don’t understand: When it comes to their common interests, the EU members are not single states; they are a bloc. And you deal with them, it, as such. You cannot downgrade it to a lobby group because you don’t like it and “because sovereignty.”
This is the most crucial phase in Britain’s future relations with the EU. Brexit is done, the transition period is over, there’s no special status for the UK anywhere. What this country, this government, does now will have repercussions, one way or another. Pissing off the other side is not an option. But leave it to the Tories to pick a fight at a time when they can least afford it.