U.K. Attacks ‘Offensive’ EU as Brexit G-7 Argument Escalates
Boris Johnson’s U.K. government doesn’t want any of the leaders at the Group of Seven summit to leave Cornwall without knowing just how angry he is with some of them about Brexit.
For the second day in a row, Johnson’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has taken to broadcast interviews to condemn European “ignorance” about the U.K., as a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules intensifies.
He attacked the “lopsided” attitude the European Union is taking to enforcing checks on in goods entering Northern Ireland, a long running sore point between the two sides.
On Sunday, reports emerged that French President Emmanuel Macron had enraged Johnson during their one-to-one meeting the day before, when he suggested to the British leader that stringent border checks were needed because Northern Ireland was not fully a part of the U.K.
It’s highly sensitive question, given decades of sectarian violence in the area between republicans who identify with Ireland, an EU member state, and unionists who see the region as irrevocably part of the U.K. and will never willingly let that status to be watered down.
“No one should be surprised by these reports and it’s not just one figure,” Raab told Sky News, adding that EU leaders must respect the territorial integrity of the U.K.. “The prime minister has been very calm but also firm about this.”
In a separate interview, Raab told the BBC he thought EU figures’ views of Northern Ireland as somehow not fully British was “offensive.”
Later, an Elysee official tried to clarify the exchange between Johnson and Macron.
When the two leaders met on Saturday, Johnson compared current border controls, which add hurdles for U.K. meat to enter Northern Ireland, to a court ban on exporting the famous Toulouse sausages to Paris, the official said.
Macron called the comparison irrelevant, given the cities of Toulouse and Paris are in the same geographical space, while Northern Ireland is on an island, separated from the British mainland by the Irish Sea, the official said.
In their end-of-summit press conferences, both Macron and Johnson tried to minimise the impression of tensions.
Macron appealed repeatedly for “calm” and thanked Johnson for hosting the event, while the British leader insisted Brexit had not dominated the talks. The atmosphere was “cooperative” and “energetic” throughout, Johnson said.
On Saturday, Johnson threatened to suspend the parts of the Brexit protocol for Northern Ireland if the EU did not change course. The EU has threatened to retaliate if the U.K. acts unilaterally.
Relations between Johnson and his EU counterparts have worsened significantly since the U.K.’s split from the bloc was completed six months ago.
The latest flashpoint is over rules affecting the movement of goods into Northern Ireland. Under the terms of the Brexit divorce agreement, a trade border was created in the Irish sea, roiling supermarket supply chains and stirring violent protests among Northern Ireland’s pro-U.K supporters.
A grace period for chilled meats is due to expire at the end of June, leading British media to describe the dispute as a “sausage war.”
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he wouldn’t read too much into Raab’s comments, suggesting they were designed for domestic political purposes. However, he warned of “consequences” for the U.K. if Johnson pursues unilateral action on the protocol.
“Unilateral action never works” in Northern Ireland, Coveney said in an interview with national broadcaster RTE on Sunday, declining to set out in detail what those consequences the U.K. might be.
Coveney said the U.S. is determined to be helpful in brokering a solution.
For example, the U.S. may be prepared to negotiate a trade deal with the U.K. even if Britain aligns food standards with the EU, which would reduce the need for checks between Northern Ireland and the British mainland, Coveney said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.