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Russia spy poisoning: What happens when you expel a diplomat?

Russia spy poisoning: What happens when you expel a diplomat?
From BBC - March 17, 2018

Russian has decided to expel 23 UK diplomats, in a tit-for-tat response to the UK's expulsion of 23 of its diplomats.

The British government announced plans to expel the Russian diplomats as part of its response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

But why do countries expel diplomats? And what happens when a diplomat is told to leave the country?

Why do countries expel diplomats?

Diplomats around the world are granted immunity in their host country - meaning they cannot be prosecuted there.

However, their right to stay in the host country can be withdrawn if they break the law, upset the host nation - or in the event of a diplomatic crisis, as between the UK and Russia right now.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations governs how states interact. Under article 9 of the convention, the host country can "at any time and for any reason" declare a person to be persona non grata - unwelcome in their country.

Who decides who goes?

The host government decides which diplomats go and which ones stay.

The British ambassador was summoned by Russia on Saturday, and had to go and break the news to his staff. This is what the UK did to the Russian ambassador, and what has happened in the past.

However John Everard, former UK ambassador to North Korea, says there is "no fixed way of telling diplomats" who stays and who goes.

Countries can summon the ambassador or issue a formal diplomatic note, he says. There is no law governing how to do it.

Patric Duddy, Former US ambassador to Venezuela, was back in Washington in 2008 when he was phoned by the US state department and told he could not return to his host nation - then-President Hugo Chavez had announced his expulsion on the news.

What happens when a diplomat is told to leave?

You leave, whenever the host country tells you to leave. Refusing to go is a breach of international treaties and could spark a major crisis.

"There's no bucking that," says Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the US. "They have to meet our deadlines, we have to meet theirs."

While Russia has given the UK a week for its diplomats to leave, sometimes the time can be far less - 72 hours or even 24 hours.

Can staff ever go back?

What happens on your return?

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