Britain accused Emmanuel Macron and other European Union figures of talking about Northern Ireland “as if it were a somewhat different country”, as tensions over Brexit flared up again in G7 summit in Cornwall.
Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, have opened a new front in their respective countries A war of words with the European Union, claiming its unwillingness to respect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
Despite pleas from Joe Biden, the US president, that both sides must de-escalate the row, the G7 summit has led to rising tensions between Britain and the European Union over the post-Brexit trade regime in NI.
Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday: “We have seen in a row that prominent figures in the European Union talk about Northern Ireland as if it were a different country from the UK.
“It is not only abusive, it has real impacts on the communities in NI. It creates great anxiety and great horror.”
He asked EU leaders to consider how they would feel if Johnson spoke of Catalonia, Flanders or Corsica as if they were – respectively – not fully integrated parts of Spain, Belgium or France.
“We need a little bit of respect here and also a frank appreciation of the situation for all the communities in Northern Ireland,” Raab added.
The dispute revolves around the different interpretations in London and the European Union of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of Johnson’s Brexit deal on trade in the region.
To ensure the border in Ireland is open, the UK has agreed to carry out some checks on behalf of the European Union in Northern Ireland ports for some goods coming from Great Britain.
The goal was to prevent the unchecked passage of goods, across Ireland’s open border, into the European Union’s single market. Britain claims the EU wants to impose ‘extremely draconian’ checks; The EU insists it is trying to be pragmatic.
The imminent flashpoint in the dispute comes before June 30 when an EU ban on imports of refrigerated meat is supposed to go into effect in NI, preventing the sale of British sausage and ground beef in the region. During a tense meeting on Saturday, Johnson asked Macron how he would feel if Toulouse sausages were to be banned from sale in Paris.
Macron, speaking in English, responded that it was a poor comparison. British officials claimed that Macron referred to Toulouse and Paris as part of the same “country”.
An Elysee official explained that the French president was making a point about geography: “The president said that Toulouse and Paris are in the same geographical area. Northern Ireland is on an island.”
“Boris Johnson reminded Johnson that leaving the European Union was a British decision and that he should respect his word,” the French official added.
But Downing Street used Macron’s comments as a clear indication that the French president had not realized that NI was an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Raab’s allies declined to say which “prominent EU figures” had made similar statements.
David Frost, the Brexit minister who attended meetings with EU leaders at Karbis Bay wearing union stockings, will now resume negotiations with Maros Sefkovic, his counterpart, to try to find a compromise.
The European Union has threatened trade sanctions against the United Kingdom if it unilaterally extends the “grace period” covering the export of British chilled meat to Northern Ireland beyond June 30.