London: Britain on Thursday said it would not provide safe passage to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if he was granted asylum by Ecuador at whose embassy he is holed up since June.
It is widely expected that Assange will be granted asylum, which will have new implications for his travel from the Ecuador embassy here to the country.
He is likely to be arrested by the British police the moment he steps out of the embassy.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "It (the granting of asylum) does not change our position. Our legal position is not changing at all. Our position is that we have a duty to extradite him, even if he is granted political asylum".
Three people were arrested this morning during a scuffle with the police outside the Ecuadorean embassy where Assange has taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offences.
The scuffle broke out as Britain and Ecuador were locked in a diplomatic impasse over Assange.
Ecuador is due to announce its decision on Assange's application for asylum, but Britain said it would seek to extradite him even if he were granted asylum.
Given Ecuador's hardening of position after Britain delivered what Quito considered a "threat" to enter its embassy in London, it is widely expected that Assange’s asylum application will be successful, which will set in motion another chain of events related to his extradition.
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino yesterday said: "We want to be very clear, we are not a British colony. The colonial times are over".
Britain says it is under legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden while Ecuador insists that British authorities entering the embassy would violate the Vienna convention and would be considered a hostile act. Britain believes that it can withdraw diplomatic immunity and then enter the embassy under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, 1987.
Reports from Quito quoted extracts of the British embassy letter: "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy".
The letter added: "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations".
An Ecuadorean government spokesman said: "We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy".
He added: "This a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention... This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British Government today with their threats to break down the door of the Ecuadorean Embassy".
In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.”
"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfil this obligation".
She added: "We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.”
"Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadoreans' attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK. We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution".
First Published: Thursday, August 16, 2012, 18:55