The French president, Emmanuel Macron, took a parting swipe at Boris Johnson as he left the G7 summit in Cornwall, insisting the prime minister was “well aware” of the provisions he signed up to in his Northern Ireland Protocol and must now implement them “seriously, calmly and professionally”.
In a stinging riposte to the prime minister’s demands for flexibility from Brussels, Mr Macron told reporters that it was not for the EU to sort out the “incoherences” of the Brexit deal that Mr Johnson had demanded, negotiated and agreed to.
And he said that respect for the UK’s sovereignty, including Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the country, cannot come at the cost of a lack of respect for the EU’s single market.
Mr Johnson presented himself at the Carbis Bay gathering as the defender of UK sovereignty against an excessively “purist” EU application of the protocol, which includes a ban on movements of sausages and other chilled meats from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland at the end of this month.
After Mr Macron allegedly told him in a fractious meeting on Saturday that the exports were not comparable to sales of Toulouse sausages in Paris because Britain and Northern Ireland were not in the same country, the PM declared that EU leaders needed to “get it into their heads” that the province was an integral part of the UK.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab branded EU leaders’ approach “offensive” and suggested that Mr Macron was among a series of figures trying to change Northern Ireland’s status against the wishes of its people.
And Mr Johnson – who has threatened to suspend the protocol unless Brussels gives ground – said: “We will do whatever it takes to protect the territorial integrity of the UK.”
But the Elysee Palace said that the president had simply said that Britain and Northern Ireland were on different islands, and one French diplomatic source accused Mr Johnson of using the issue as a “distraction”.
Mr Macron was part of a united EU front at Carbis Bay insisting that the PM must deliver on the arrangements for the Irish border set out in the protocol which he agreed in 2019.
In a press conference to conclude the summit, the French president denied that the EU was showing a lack of respect for British sovereignty.
“We are respectful and for a number of years after Brexit we have established certain rules, a protocol agreement and a trade treaty for future relations,” said Mr Macron. “We just want them to be respected seriously, calmly and professionally – that’s all.”
Mr Macron said that Mr Johnson had rejected Theresa May’s “backstop” arrangement for the Irish border, which was a way of “reconciling” the competing demands of UK territorial integrity, the Good Friday Agreement and the single market.
“Prime minister Johnson was well aware at the time that there was a control issue and he himself signed a protocol agreement which is valid for Northern Ireland, which does envisage controls,” said the French president.
“Full respect of sovereignty, including with regard to Northern Ireland, must not have the consequence of non-respect of the 27 member states which decided to create a single market.”
And in a jibe at the PM, he added: “You mustn’t make the EU deal with certain incoherences that you were well aware of from the beginning.”
Mr Macron shrugged off the conflicting accounts of his exchanges with Mr Johnson on Saturday, telling reporters: “We have in France many towns, many regions, we make sausages everywhere and we are very proud of it ... We defend French gastronomy.”
Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin warned the UK against unilaterally extending a grace period before protocol rules are applied to chilled meat exports, due to expire at the end of this month, in the same way that it did with supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries.
Mr Martin told Sky News: “Consistent, unilateral deviation from that agreement ... clearly undermines the broader relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
The impending sausage ban stems from strict EU rules to protect the quality and safety of food products circulating within the single market. Mr Johnson’s decision to place a customs border in the Irish Sea as part of his Brexit deal means that the protections apply to Northern Ireland.
London is resisting an EU proposal to get round the issue by agreeing to align regulations on animal hygiene, because it fears this may get in the way of future trade deals with countries like the US. It instead proposes that the EU accept that standards in the UK are broadly equivalent to those in the single market.
Mr Raab told Sky News: “What we cannot have is the continuing disruption of trade and effectively, trying to change the status of Northern Ireland contrary to the wishes or the consent of the people.”
He added: “We have serially seen senior EU figures talk about Northern Ireland as if it was some kind of different country to the UK. It is not only offensive, it has real-world effects on the communities in Northern Ireland, creates great concern, great consternation.
“Could you imagine if we talked about Catalonia, the Flemish part of Belgium, one of the Länder in Germany, northern Italy, Corsica in France as different countries? We need a bit of respect here.”
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