Will the Ecuadorian embassy be stormed?

Litigation, and not broken glass, is the more likely consequence.

Last night the foreign minister of Ecuador warned that its London embassy was facing being “stormed” by the United Kingdom government. There had even been a threat in writing, it was claimed. This was a rather dramatic announcement, and it evoked images of SAS soldiers crashing through embassy windows to capture their cornered prey.

The reality seems to be more mundane. The UK government appears to have pointed out that it has the legal power to revoke the embassy status of the premises currently being used by the Ecuadorian embassy. (See Carl Gardner’s excellent post on the applicable law.) As such, this is merely a statement of what the law says. The UK government added that it does not want to use that power and hopes for an eventual compromise. Any threat is at best implicit, but it is hardly a brutal ultimatum.

And what would happen next is even less exciting.  As the UK government will be purporting to be exercising a statutory provision – in this case a power under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 – then any executive action is in principle amenable to the jurisdiction of the High Court for judicial review.  Here it would be Ecuador challenging the UK government in a case that would raise complex points of domestic and international public law.

Accordingly, there will not be breaking glass in Kensington but the prospect of months (or perhaps years) of highly expensive litigation, which will probably reach the Supreme Court. In reality, Ecuador should now be more concerned about lawyers’ bills than any special forces “storming” its embassy.  

All the same, it does appear to be unwise for the UK government to even suggest that the embassy status is at risk. Whilst it is correct that a premises not actually being properly used as an embassy should not have the same legal protection as premises that are being used for such a purpose, it is difficult to see how giving refuge even to someone facing allegations of rape and sexual assault and a valid arrest warrant (and who is also in breach of bail conditions) is by itself sufficient to say the embassy is being so entirely misused that the UK government can invoke the 1987 Act.  And, as a matter of Realpolitik, what the UK government does to embassies in London can also be done to its embassies abroad. 

Of course, this is just one aspect of a mutual exercise in smoke and mirrors by the UK and Ecuadorian governments.  The claim by the Ecuadorian foreign minister may be spin to cover an eventual backing-down, or a signal of a more defiant approach. There may already be a deal between the two countries.   There may be the granting of asylum status, or not.  But there is little new of substance behind the strident assertions of the Ecuadorian foreign minister: the UK government has always had a residual power which it can exercise subject to the High Court, and the Ecuador government has presumably always known this.

International law is important: embassies should be safe and only have their status revoked in exceptional circumstances. But valid European arrest warrants are also part of international law, and they bind the UK if not Ecuador.  The UK is currently in breach of its obligation to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden, just as Assange is in breach of his bail conditions.  In seeking to facilitate the extradition of Assange, the UK government is trying to uphold the law and not break it.

And so due process continues to be evaded, and the rights of the complainants of rape and sexual assault still remain frustrated. However, complainants of rape and sexual assault have rights too.  And the longer this matter drags out, the less chance of any justice in respect of the original allegations.  That is the real scandal.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

Metropolitan Police Officers not storming the Ecuadorian embassy. Photograph: Getty Images

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Photo: Getty Images
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Higher immigration is a success story, not a nightmare

Immigration is good news for Britain and for London. As Mayor, I'll defend it, promises Diane Abbott. 

David Cameron’s net migration target has been exposed as a stupid, reactionary and unworkable policy. And the furore over the failure to meet his own policy aim is entirely fake. It is classic scapegoating tactics, being used to distract people from the effects of government spending cuts, such as the crisis in the NHS and the increasing unaffordability of housing.

The new record of 330,000 people is a high for net migration. This is not a disaster, far from it. There is a benefit from migration in a series of areas; economically, socially and culturally. So, we should follow the German and Swedish models of welcoming migration as a key to our future prosperity.

As a candidate to be selected as Labour’s mayor for London, I welcome the growing population of London, as well as its increased energy and diversity. It’s one of the things that make London great. As the anti-austerity candidate in this race I also recognise that it is also necessary to fight for the homes, schools and NHS capacity we need to make it a great city for all.”

Instead there is an entirely fake clamour which has been generated over the inevitable failure of the Tories to meet their reactionary net migration target. All the Tories have to offer is cuts. Labour needs to offer an alternative.

Immigration helped to build London as the great city it is. I make this pledge now and if selected to be Labour’s candidate: I will reject all criticism of rising net migration and I welcome London’s growing population and diversity.

I hope all other candidates will do the same. We need to stand together and stand up to the Tory efforts to pin their own economic failures on immigrants who make a great contribution to our economy, our cultural diversity and the richness of our society. The immigration mugs of the last election were a disaster, and should never be repeated.

We need to counter the myths on migration. The majority of all international migration to Britain comes to London. Official data shows that the most recent year 201,000 international migrants came to London. Yet wages in London are the highest in Britain, about 50 per cent higher than the rest of the country. It is clearly a myth that immigration drives down wages. It is also estimated that migrants to Britain make an estimated £20bn annual contribution towards government finances.

This is in addition to the huge social and cultural contributions that immigrants have always made and continue to make.  When migrants come to Britain they are mainly coming to London. They help make it the great city it is. I will always defend and promote that. 

Diane Abbott is the shadow public health minister and the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.