Britain accused Emmanuel Macron and other EU figures of talking about Northern Ireland ‘as if it were a different country’, as Brexit tensions flared again G7 summit in Cornwall.
Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary, have opened a new front in their war of words with the EU, claiming that he is unwilling to respect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
Despite calls from Joe Biden, President of the United States, for the two sides to calm the conflict, the G7 summit has exacerbated tensions between Britain and the EU over NI’s post-Brexit trade regime.
Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday: “We have seen top EU officials talking about Northern Ireland as if it were a different country from the UK in series.
“It’s not only offensive, it has real effects on NI communities. This creates great concern and consternation.
He asked EU leaders to think about how they would feel if Johnson spoke of Catalonia, Flanders or Corsica as if they were – respectively – not fully integrated parties from Spain, Belgium or France.
“We need a little respect here and also frankly an appreciation of the situation for all the communities in Northern Ireland,” Raab added.
The dispute centers on the different interpretations in London and the EU of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of Johnson’s Brexit deal relating to trade in the region.
To ensure an open border in Ireland, the UK has agreed to carry out checks on behalf of the EU at ports in Northern Ireland for certain goods from Great Britain.
The aim was to prevent goods from passing unchecked, via the open border in Ireland, into the EU’s single market. Britain claims the EU wants to impose “draconian” controls; the EU insists that it tries to be pragmatic.
The most imminent flashpoint in the dispute comes before June 30, when the EU’s ban on chilled meat imports is supposed to go into effect in NI, blocking the sale of British sausages and ground beef in the region. In a tense meeting on Saturday, Johnson asked Macron how he would feel if Toulouse sausages were banned from sale in Paris.
Macron, who spoke English, replied that it was a bad comparison. British officials claimed that Macron had pointed out that Toulouse and Paris were part of the same “country”.
An Elysée official said that the French president was taking stock of geography: “The president said that Toulouse and Paris are in a single geographic territory. Northern Ireland is on an island.
The French official added: “He reminded Boris Johnson that leaving the EU was a British decision and that he had to keep his word.”
But Downing Street took Macron’s remarks as an apparent indication that the French president failed to recognize that NI was an integral part of the UK.
Raab’s allies declined to say which other “EU officials” made similar remarks.
David Frost, the UK Brexit Minister who attended meetings with EU leaders in Carbis Bay wearing Union Jack socks, will now resume negotiations with his counterpart Maros Sefcovic in an attempt to find a compromise.
The EU has threatened to impose trade sanctions on the UK if it unilaterally extends the ‘grace period’ covering the export of UK chilled meats to Northern Ireland beyond June 30.