The retired British ambassador, Oliver Miles, addresses some of the speculation on whether Julian Assange will be able to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London now that he has been offered political asylum.
Jeremy Harding quotes someone talking of Assange being ‘set on a rapid path to Ecuadorian citizenship and finally awarded a minor consular position, which gets him from the steps of the embassy to a boarding gate at Heathrow under diplomatic immunity’. That won’t wash: you don’t get diplomatic immunity in Britain until your name has been notified by your government and accepted by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], which can refuse without giving reasons.
When Assange went into the Ecuadorian Embassy I assumed that the FCO would ask the Ecuadorians either to hand him over or let the British police go in and get him. Not to do so would send a message to every crook in London: find an ambassador, pay him off, and you have free passage to the Costa del Crime.
If the Ecuadorians said no, the British government would be under no international diplomatic obligation to take the matter further, but if they did not do so they could not fulfil their obligation under British and European law to extradite Assange to Sweden. I would assume that they would assess their options, up to and including expelling the ambassador, considering ways to get the Ecuadorians to change their position, and taking into account other British interests that might be at risk. Timing is always important, and in this case it seems that the British government need be in no particular hurry.
Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, says:
We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. The United Kingdom does not recognise the principle of diplomatic asylum.
It is far from a universally accepted concept: the United Kingdom is not a party to any legal instruments which require us to recognise the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country.
Moreover, it is well established that, even for those countries which do recognise diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts. And in this case that is clearly what is happening.