The nomination of an EU ambassador to the UK is a potent symbol of the shift in Britain’s statusby Rupert Joy / January 15, 2020 / Leave a comment
The announcement that João Vale de Almeida is to become the European Union’s first ambassador to London is a powerful reminder that, as we brush the sleep from our eyes on Saturday 1st February, Brexit will—finally—mean Brexit.
The EU does not appoint ambassadors to its member states. The 28—soon to be 27—countries that make up the Union constitute its “homeland” and share (in theory at least) a common foreign and security policy. Instead, the European Commission has representative offices in each member state, which perform more administrative functions, communicating information about EU institutions and organising visits. For the UK, all that will change on 1st February. Since the Lisbon Treaty, EU relations with countries outside the Union have been managed by the European External Action Service, a kind of foreign ministry, with a global network of diplomatic delegations led by ambassadors, sharing many of the characteristics of national embassies.
The nomination of an EU ambassador to London is thus a potent political symbol of the shift in Britain’s status. As Vale de Almeida arrives to take up his new post, the UK will become a third country, albeit a rather important one, and join what the EU likes to call its “neighbourhood.” He will present his diplomatic credentials to the Queen and be accredited to the Court of St James in the same way as any other foreign ambassador. For Europeans, the UK will officially become abroad. In a similar way, the UK’s permanent representation to the EU, known in British diplomatic jargon as UKRep, will reportedly change its name post-Brexit to the “UK mission to the EU,” to mark the change of its diplomatic status.
Vale de Almeida, who is Portuguese, was an obvious choice for the role. A journalist by background, he has served in a number of key positions in Brussels, including as head of cabinet to the former commission president José Manuel Barroso and EU director general for external relations. He has spent the past eight years in two key roles abroad, as EU ambassador first to the US in Washington and then to the UN in New York. Colleagues who have worked with Vale de Almeida describe him as calm and unflappable, a natural alliance-builder with a pragmatist’s instinct for identifying win-wins. He…