Brexit: UK 'wanted to be in charge' says Widdecombe
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Emmanuel Macron escalated the so-called “sausage wars” with the “revealing” comment that sources say may explain his position on the issue. The row has added fuel to the risk 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 Prime Minister stunned when the two held a bilateral meeting at the G7 in Cornwall when the issue of the controversial 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 Ulster.
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed in 2019 as a way of enabling discussions on a UK/ EU trade deal to begin and ease concerns 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 focussed 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 a series of meetings at the G7 in Cornwall with President Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the two EU Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
Mr Johnson, who was accompanied by his chief negotiator Lord Frost throughout, was said to be “taken aback” by an EU attitude that Northern Ireland is a separate country.
This was highlighted in the meeting with President Macron when the Prime Minister 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 dumbstruck Prime Minister then replied: “Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well.”
A senior source from the British delegation said: “He [Mr Johnson] was pretty struck by it as quite revealing as to how they see the issue. It completely explains what underlies the comments he made.”
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However, the source was even more dismissive of Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel who were said to have just read from a script in their meeting with the Prime Minister.
Chancellor Merkel and President Macron were described as “more reflective”.
The source admitted that while Britain “wants a negotiated solution” time is running out because exporters and companies “will soon make a decision” on exporting to Northern Ireland.
“We don’t want empty shelves in supermarkets,” the source added.
An official spokesman for the Prime Minister insisted yesterday: “All options are on the table.”
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It was noted that all the political leaders from the EU had appeared to have coordinated their messages for the meetings but there was some hope because they dropped the aggressive rhetoric of threatening a trade war in the private discussions.
When he came out of the meeting the Elysee briefed that Mr Macron wants to “reset” the relationship with Britain but insisted that this was 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: “We have moved on in Europe. It’s 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. We made our position clear on Wednesday and the ball is now in the British court.”
The Prime Minister had met fellow leaders at the luxury five star Carbis Bay Hotel where they are all staying for the summit.
Distrust between the UK and EU also even appeared to centre on them using different communication systems with the British on Whatsapp and the EU delegates using Signal.
After the official meetings, Mr Johnson voiced his frustrations with the EU over the issue of Northern Ireland in a series of broadcast interviews yesterday.
He said: “I think 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.
“I think that the protocol can work if it is sensibly applied but at the moment there is – it’s not just a question of chilled meats or or sausages, there are all kinds of impediments being constructed, and we need to sort it out.
“I think we can sort it out but it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes.
“I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16, as I have said before. Don’t forget, the EU themselves invoked Article 16 in January, to disapply the protocol, so they can stop removal of vaccines from the EU to the UK.
“I’ve talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads.”
Later he added: “I certainly think that the protocol is capable of being used and interpreted – by the way, up to the EU – in a pragmatic way or a theologically draconian way.”
He added: “The UK will do whatever we need to do to protect the UK internal market.
“I don’t happen to think that a trade war is a very sensible or likely way forward. I just think that we need some pragmatic solutions.
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