If the government can revoke an Embassy's diplomatic status can it do the same for the diplomatic cars that keep flouting the congestion charge?
I think I may have found a green angle on the on-going saga of Julian Assange's extradition. No, I'm not talking about the WikiLeaks revelations on how the US attempted to undermine UN climate change negotiations, nor some esoteric argument involving American hegemonic power, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and CIA conspiracies. I'm thinking about the rather more prosaic details of the stand-off between the UK and Ecuador over Assange's status and what it tells us about diplomatic immunity.
If reports are to be believed the UK Foreign Office wrote to the Ecuadorian Embassy where Assange is sheltering last month, explaining that the UK has the legal right to temporarily revoke the building's diplomatic status in order to allow police to enter the property and arrest the WikiLeaks founder for breaching his bail conditions.
The "threat" has thus far proved hollow, but it does raise the rather less media-worthy question, if the UK can technically revoke the diplomatic status of embassies could it also revoke the status of diplomatic vehicles? And if so, could it finally collect the millions of pounds in fines owed by those embassies that have chosen to flout the congestion charge since its inception?
According to the latest Foreign Office figures, those embassies that continue to cling to the absurd argument that London's congestion charge is not a "charge", but a tax from which they are exempt, now owe over £58m. The US leads the league table of air polluting shame with a bill of over £6m, followed by Russia and Japan with around £4m and Germany with over £3m.
It has always been an utter disgrace that embassies, many of which preach about the pioneering green policies deployed in their own countries to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, could so openly flout the UK's attempts to tackle London's appalling air quality. It is particularly galling given the argument for this brazen rule-breaking is such transparent nonsense: the congestion charge is not, and never has been a tax, you can avoid it by simply not driving in the congestion zone - it is a charge, just like that applied to any toll road, anywhere in the world.
Of course, a serious letter-writing campaign from the Foreign Office pointing out to various ambassadors that they are, in the words of former Mayor Ken Livingstone, "chiselling little crooks" who could now be at risk of having their cars impounded is about as likely to happen as a special forces raid to arrest Assange.
But still, we can but hope that a slightly more aggressive stance from the government might shame some of the most egregious offenders into seeing the error of their ways.
After all, it could prove more effective, and almost as funny, as sending some comedians to clamp their cars.
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