Brexit tensions are spiralling out of control after Emmanuel Macron was accused of suggesting Northern Ireland is not part of the UK.
The UK’s Foreign Secretary hit back furiously today after UK sources revealed the French President’s glib remarks in a meeting with Boris Johnson.
Dominic Raab accused the EU of a “lopsided, purist” approach to trade checks that breaks the Good Friday peace agreement – and demanded “a bit of respect”.
A ‘sausage war’ has broken out between Boris Johnson and EU leaders after Brussels refused to budge on trading rules he agreed as part of his Brexit deal.
Under his 2019 Northern Ireland Protocol, many British goods crossing the Irish Sea west to Northern Ireland must undergo EU checks or fulfil EU rules.
This was designed to avoid a damaging “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic – but has instead created a border in the Irish Sea.
It means there will be a total ban on British “chilled meat preparations”, including sausages, travelling to Belfast once a grace period expires on June 30.
Boris Johnson has already threatened to extend the grace period on sausages without the EU’s permission.
And yesterday the PM warned he “will obviously not hesitate” Article 16 of the Protocol – the “nuclear option” that allows either side to override it.
Tensions worsened after the reported comments by French President Emmanuel Macron. According to briefings to several right-leaning newspapers, Mr Johnson asked Mr Macron at the G7 summit: “How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?”
But Mr Macron allegedly said it was a bad comparison – because Paris and Toulouse are part of the same country.
“Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well,” an irritated Boris Johnson is said to have replied.
Dominic Raab refused to “spill the beans” on whether Mr Macron did make the comments – but pointedly failed to deny he did.
The UK Foreign Secretary told Sky News: “No one should be surprised by these reports and it’s not just one figure.
“We’ve serially seen senior EU figures talk about Northern Ireland as if it was somehow a different country to the UK.
“That is not only offensive, it has real world effects on the communities in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Raab said “can you imagine” if the UK said Catalonia or the Flemish part of Belgium were separate countries, fuming: “We need a bit of respect here.”
Mr Raab claimed it was the EU that was not sticking to the letter of the Northern Ireland protocol – despite critics saying Boris Johnson, the person who signed the protocol in 2019, is the person guilty of that.
“The truth is the Northern Ireland protocols are compromised,” he said. “What we need is for both the letter and the spirit to be respected.”
And he accused the EU of “effectively trying to change the status of Northern Ireland contrary to the wishes or the consent of the people, which is not just contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol but also the Belfast Agreement.”
Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry told Tory ministers to “get on with it” and find a solution – which could be a Swiss-style veterinary agreement.
“I’m not saying the EU isn’t being petty, I’m not saying the number of stops on the border are frankly ridiculous, but they are sticking within the letter of the law and we need to find a solution to that.” she told Sky News.
“We just need to step back, take a deep breath, take a look beyond sausages, and think what is the policy that needs to be fixed.”
Despite the rising tensions, Ireland’s Prime Minister said a breakthrough to avert a trade war is possible “if there’s a will there on both sides”.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said “the channels do exist to get this resolved” as the Northern Ireland Protocol row continued to overshadow the G7 Summit in Cornwall.
He told Sky News: “There is a will there from the European Union side I know that, I detect from the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the British Government is anxious to get a resolution of this, so I think we should work at it.”
He denied the Protocol, which effectively creates a border down the Irish Sea, affecting trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, undermined the province’s place in the UK.
“We’ve never seen the Protocol as a constitutional issue, it doesn’t in any way interfere with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as defined and articulated in the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.
“We’re very clear from the Irish Government perspective on that, but we do believe in seamless trade on the island of Ireland, it makes sense.
“We believe in seamless trade in so far as we possibly can between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.”