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MEPs warn UK’s diplomatic downgrade will hurt relations

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A truck driver hands over paperwork to a policeman before entering the Port of Dover. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

A truck driver hands over paperwork to a policeman before entering the Port of Dover. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

A truck driver hands over paperwork to a policeman before entering the Port of Dover. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Members of the European Parliament have warned that a diplomatic spat with London could weigh on their decision to approve the EU-UK trade deal.

One MEP accused the UK of being “petty” and “taking another leaf from the Trump playbook” by refusing to grant full diplomatic status to the EU’s embassy in London.

“The UK has its representation to the EU as well, with full diplomatic rights, so why in God’s sake don’t they want to give us these same rights?” said Luxembourg MEP Christophe Hansen, one of the lead author’s of parliament’s position on the deal.

“A word to the wise: I would not want it to negatively reflect on the European Parliament ratification procedure,” he told an EU parliamentary committee yesterday.

London has refused to give the EU ambassador and his mission the privileges that are given to diplomats under the Vienna Comvention, arguing that it does not want to set a precedent by granting an international body the same privileges as those given to national embassies.

The row over the UK’s intention to treat the EU’s embassy in London the same as international organisations – without full diplomatic privileges and immunities – blew up last week after a leak of letters to the BBC.

The UK is the only country out of 143 to deny the bloc full diplomatic status.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said on Monday that it was “not a friendly signal” from the UK and that the bloc would “not accept” it.

There are other issues that could also delay ratification of the trade deal.

The EU-UK deal has been applied provisionally since January 1, a technical fix to allow time for MEPs to go through it and hold a vote. Provisional application is due to expire on February 28.

Parliament had pencilled in a vote on February 23, but that schedule is now in doubt because of delays in translating the text into the EU’s 24 official languages.

EU officials want to extend that provisional application until April, if the UK agrees.

While MEPs can’t change the deal, they can put pressure on the European Commission to raise certain issues via EU-UK joint committees.

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Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly said the committees should “look at where can border checks be relaxed” to avoid the disruption seen in recent weeks at UK warehouses and Irish ports.

The UK has suspended some customs and Vat formalities until July when Irish exporters could face further disruptions to their supply chains.

“We need to be careful so that we don’t end up with an escalation of petty admin,” said Belgian MEP Geert Bourgeois.

But EU officials say there is no room to relax the rules.

“The disruption we are seeing is inevitable,” said the European Commission’s Antonio Fernández-Martos, who helped negotiate the deal.

“Now it’s time to adapt to the new reality because that reality is there to stay,” he said.

MEPs have also raised concerns about UK moves to relax labour laws and to allow for the use of a pesticide that is banned in the EU.

They say some EU citizens in the UK are being treated unfairly, citing extra ID checks on those returning from Europe and more costly visas for seasonal farm workers.


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