William Hague took a robust line on Julian Assange at his press conference this evening. He made clear that the British government would not allow the Wikileaks founder safe passage out of the UK, and warned against using diplomatic immunity as a means of ‘escaping regular process of the courts’. Assange is wanted in Sweden on allegations that he raped one woman and sexually assaulted another in August 2010. He denies both charges and has spent the past 56 days hiding in Ecuador’s embassy, where it was today confirmed that he is being granted political asylum.
The police still intend to arrest Assange as soon as he leaves the embassy, but Hague’s press conference locks the foreign secretary into stand-off with his Ecuadorian counterpart, Ricardo Patino. The foreign minister of the South American country said this afternoon that any attempt by Britain to follow through on its threat to revoke the embassy’s status would ‘be interpreted by Ecuador as a hostile and intolerable act and also as an attack on our sovereignty, which would require us to respond with greater diplomatic force’.
But Hague did not tune down his own rhetoric in response, dismissing claims that the Foreign Office was threatening to storm the embassy. This is what he said:
This is the United Kingdom fulfilling its obligations under the Extradition Act to Sweden, a close partner in so many ways, a fellow democracy in the European Union. It is as simple as that. Therefore to us it is a simple matter of carrying out our law, but as well as being simple it is something we must do. We absolutely must fulfil our obligations under the Extradition Act. Therefore we are determined to do so and we remain determined to do so despite the regrettable announcement that Ecuador has made today.
British diplomats in Quito have warned of ‘serious implications for our diplomatic relations’ if Ecuador continues the stand-off, while Respect MP George Galloway this afternoon accused Hague of setting ‘Latin America alight with anti-British feeling’ with his ‘threats’. The process of revoking the status of the embassy is not going to happen overnight, though, as Ecuador could contest it via judicial review. So Assange can continue to do whatever it is he’s been up to over the past 56 days without worrying about being collared just yet. Until, of course, he tries to leave the embassy for Ecuador, whereupon the police will move to arrest him.Tags: Julian Assange, UK politics, William Hague