Even after Brexit came through, and the UK is no longer a part of the European Union, tensions have not subsided between London and Brussels.
On the sidelines of the G7 Summit, London accused France of “offensive” remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom.
After Brexit, trade between the UK and EU hasn’t been figured out. Especially between Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.
Invariable, the talks keep coming back to the delicate patchwork of history, nationalism, religion and geography that intertwine in Northern Ireland, but the latest spat over the Brexit divorce deal is centered on sausages.
Brussels is angered at London’s refusal to implement checks on goods heading into Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales.
The EU is threatening retaliation if Britain unilaterally extends a grace period for trade in chilled meat, including sausages, in July.
The issue was raised again when Prime Minister Boris Johnson met French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
Johnson asked the French leader to imagine if Toulouse sausages were barred from sale in Paris, which left Macron “astonished”, according to a source in the president’s office.
“He … told him Toulouse is part of the same territory, which is not the case for Northern Ireland” because it is separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea, the source said.
“These are different geographical configurations and we are comparing things that are absolutely not comparable.”
British media reported that Macron responded by inaccurately saying Northern Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom, remarks British foreign minister Dominic Raab described as “offensive”.
“Various EU figures here in Carbis Bay, but frankly for months now and years, have characterised Northern Ireland as somehow a separate country and that is wrong,” Raab said.
“It is a failure to understand the facts. We wouldn’t talk about Catalonia and Barcelona, or Corsica in France in those ways,” he claimed.
Macron made a plea for calm on all sides at his end-of-summit news conference.
“We’re not going to have a row about this every day,” he said.
“France never called into question British sovereignty, the integrity of British territory and respect for that sovereignty,” he added.
Johnson also played down the row in his closing remarks, although he restated his pledge to do “whatever it takes to protect the territorial integrity of the UK” and said he repeatedly told European leaders the UK was “indivisible”.
In a move that some worry could provoke a full-scale trade war, Johnson has threatened to invoke emergency measures in the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit divorce deal if no solution is found to the so-called “sausage war”.
That protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.
But Johnson has already delayed the implementation of some of its provisions, including checks on chilled meats moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.
The EU does not want Northern Ireland to be a backdoor into its single market and neither side wants border checks between the province and the Republic of Ireland which could become a target for dissident militants.
Instead, the two sides agreed to the protocol, which provides for checks between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom, though Britain now says these are too cumbersome and divisive. Johnson said on Saturday he would do “whatever it takes” to protect the UK’s territorial integrity.
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