Brexit: Expert warns of ‘big confrontation’ over Northern Ireland
When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. Our Privacy Notice explains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Emmanuel Macron escalated the “sausage wars” with the “revealing” comment that may explain his position on the issue. The row has heightened fears that Britain and the EU could be in a full-scale trade dispute over Northern Ireland in a week. The French President’s attitude was said to have left the PM stunned when the two held a meeting at the G7 and the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol was raised. It comes amid briefings that Mr Johnson will have to make a decision on whether to rip up the protocol in a week or risk having empty shelves in supermarkets in Northern Ireland.
The protocol was agreed in 2019 as a way of enabling discussions on a UK/EU trade deal to begin and ease fears about the land border with Ireland.
But yesterday, Mr Johnson accused the EU of taking a “draconian theological” view on an agreement which now threatens peace in the province by blockading food and pharmaceutical goods from mainland Britain.
The row has centred on Northern Ireland not being able to import sausages from the rest of the UK but already 30 medicines have stopped being used in the province as a result of the agreement. The Prime Minister raised the issue again in meetings with Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
Mr Johnson, who was accompanied by chief negotiator Lord Frost, was “taken aback” by the EU’s attitude that Northern Ireland is a separate country.
This was highlighted in the meeting with Macron when the PM asked him whether he would be angered if Toulouse sausages were blocked from going to Paris by a foreign power.
Macron is understood to have retorted: “Not a good comparison because Paris and Toulouse are both part of the same country.” A shocked PM replied: “Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well.”
A senior source from the British delegation said: “The PM was pretty struck by it as quite revealing as to how they see the issue. It explains what underlies the comments he made.”
However, the source was even more dismissive of Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel, who were said to have read from a script in their meeting with the PM. Merkel and Macron were described as “more reflective”.
The source admitted that while Britain “wants a negotiated solution” time is running out because firms “will soon make a decision” on exporting to Northern Ireland. “We don’t want empty shelves in supermarkets,” the source added.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted yesterday: “All options are on the table.”
It was noted that all the EU leaders had appeared to have co-ordinated their messages for the meetings but there was some hope, as they dropped threats of a trade war.
Macron was said to want to “reset” the relationship with Britain but that this is conditional of the UK not ditching the protocol. However, an EU official made it clear that Brussels has “moved on” but expects Britain to stick to the deal. The senior EU source said: “This not something that the people of Europe care about. People want to see EU leaders talking about jobs and vaccines.”
But the source added: “There will be no wavering. Both national leaders and the two EU leaders are on the same page. The Prime Minister wasn’t in a feisty mood, he was in listening mood.
“This is a very serious issue. It has been drafted, signed, ratified and is now British law, European law and an international treaty.
“The EU is a community of law based on rules and procedures. We are strengthening that message which has already been given multiple times. The ball is now in the British court.”
Distrust between the powers even appeared to centre on using different communication systems, with the British on WhatsApp and EU delegates on Signal.
After the official meetings, Mr Johnson used a series of interviews to voice his frustration with the EU. He said: “The treaty we signed, I signed, is perfectly reasonable. I don’t think that the interpretation or application of the protocol is sensible or pragmatic.
“What I’m hearing from our friends in the EU is that they understand the strength of our feelings on this, and they understand why governments might want to protect the territorial integrity of the UK, plus the UK’s internal market.
“The protocol can work if it is sensibly applied but at the moment… it’s not just a question of chilled meats or sausages.
“There are all kinds of impediments being constructed and we need to sort it out.
“It is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes.”
Mr Johnson added: “I’ve talked to some of our friends here, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads.”
Source: Read Full Article