Julian Assange will not be allowed safe passage out of the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary William Hague said tonight as he warned that diplomatic immunity should not be used to harbour alleged criminals.
Mr Hague said it was a “matter of regret” that the Ecuadorian government decided to grant the Wikileaks founder political asylum but warned that it “does not change the fundamentals” of the case.
Speaking at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he also warned that the case could go on for some “considerable” time.
Mr Hague said: “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.”
Mr Hague said Mr Assange’s rights were “guaranteed” and this should be enough for Ecuador.
He said: “We are committed to work with Ecuador amicably… we cannot give safe passage to somebody in this situation.
“We would not agree to safe passage to someone granted asylum in these circumstances.
“It could (go on for months or years). It is, above all, a difficulty for Ecuador and for Mr Assange but this is a strange position for an embassy to be in this position.
“Diplomatic immunity exists to allow embassies and diplomats to exercise proper diplomatic functions and the harbouring of alleged criminals, or frustrating the due legal process in a country, is not a permitted function.
“We will continue to work at it to try to bring a solution about.”
Mr Hague said there “are no time limits” to resolving the situation but Britain remains determined to fulfil its obligations under the extradition act.
And the Foreign Secretary confirmed he had authorised the communications with Ecuador, including the highlighting of British laws which allow the suspension of normal embassy rules, potentially allowing the police to enter the building and arrest Mr Assange.
Mr Hague said: “Decisions on matters like this are taken by me, the Foreign Secretary. I think, in any case, the Ecuadorians were committed to making the announcement about the asylum today, and so it has turned out they have gone ahead.
“I think the situation which has prevailed today would have prevailed anyway since they have not been affected by the note we presented to them yesterday.”
Mr Hague dismissed Ecuadorian claims that they had been threatened with an “attack” on their embassy.
“There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary denied claims by Mr Assange and his supporters that there was a deal which would see him extradited to the United States.
He said: “We have no arrangement with the United States. 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.”