Democrat lawmakers have written to Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, to complain that downgrading the diplomatic status of the EU’s ambassador in Washington would “needlessly denigrate transatlantic relationships” as unhappiness over the Trump administration’s combative stance on Europe grows.

US President Donald Trump’s administration reversed an Obama-era decision to rank the EU ambassador to Washington, currently David O’Sullivan, on a par with European national diplomats just before Christmas, but appeared to not directly inform the EU delegation.

European officials questioned Mr O’Sullivan’s diplomatic status with State Department officials after noting that Mr O’Sullivan had stopped being invited to events alongside European ambassadors. He was called last to pay his respects at the recent funeral of George HW Bush.

Democrat members of the House committee on foreign affairs said both the “substance” of the decision and the “undiplomatic way in which it was carried out . . . needlessly denigrate transatlantic relations”. They have demanded to know when and why the decision was made and when it was formally communicated to the EU.

“The European Union is one of the largest customers for US exports and a significant source of job-creating foreign investment into our country”, wrote Eliot Engel, the new chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.

“Most importantly, we are concerned that this decision does not advance the interests of the United States and is in fact counterproductive. We ought to support and strengthen our allies, not turn them into foes. Insulting them for no apparent reason does not typically encourage them to take a warmer view of the United States,” they added.

A Washington-based EU official said the delegation saw no reason for the change in diplomatic status given the “absence of new facts.”

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