The United States Embassy in London is the worst of quite a few culprits that are refusing to pay the city its due congestion fees. In order to reduce traffic, London requires that drivers purchase a permit, the cost of which has amounted to more than $10 million for U.S. Embassy employees alone.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has requested that all embassies with outstanding payments for the fees pay their dues. But the United States is insistently claiming that diplomatic immunity should absolve it of its obligation to pay. Our nation is being both stingy and snobbish, and despite legal loopholes in the diplomatic system, we should pay our debts.
The city of London has countered the U.S. Embassy’s claim of diplomatic immunity by noting that the $10 million is not a tax on driving, but a fee for a service rendered. Yet even if London demands that the U.S. Embassy is legally bound to pay the fees, diplomats may still evade payment because diplomatic immunity once again absolves diplomats of prosecution and any penalties that might arise.
In the grand scheme of the U.S. foreign budget, $10 million is not much money to sacrifice, especially if that money is owed for a service that the nation’s representatives have exploited. And in the grand scheme of diplomacy, honoring a small payment to one of our closest allies should be a reasonable and an obvious gesture.
While our refusal to pay the fee poses no grave ramifications to our relationship with England, it is a symbolic insult to our embassy’s host city. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson has noted the United States’ habit of avoiding this payment in the past and he has been vocal in his indignation.
Anticipating President Obama’s visit to his city in 2011, Mayor Johnson jabbed: "Maybe when President Obama's hors d'oeuvre plate is whisked away, he will find a bill." Mayor Johnson also confronted President Obama during his visit in 2011, asking him for a £5 million check to cover the fees (the U.S. ambassador intervened before President Obama could respond).
Any diplomatic or political reasoning aside, the United States shouldn’t demean the concept of diplomatic immunity by manipulating it to avoid a petty fee such as this. Diplomatic immunity exists to protect foreign representatives and to cultivate relationships between nations. It is irresponsible and, frankly, ludicrous that the United States Embassy is overextending its diplomatic rights and being stubborn over such a trivial matter.