The Sunday Telegraph

Macron triggers Johnson’s fury by claiming Northern Ireland is not part of UK

As leaders dined on the beach last night, some were licking their wounds over Northern Ireland Protocol

- By Ben Riley-Smith at the G7 summit in Cornwall

BORIS JOHNSON was left infuriated yesterday when Emmanuel Macron suggested in G7 summit talks that Northern Ireland is not part of the UK.

The Prime Minister attempted to explain his frustratio­n with the Northern Ireland Protocol by asking Mr Macron what he would do if sausages from Toulouse could not be moved to Paris. The French president said the comparison did not work because Paris and Toulouse are in the same country.

Mr Johnson expressed bemusement to aides straight after the meeting and later hinted at the comment when telling Sky News that some leaders needed to get it “into their heads” that the UK was a “single country”.

The blunder emerged after early morning talks in Cornwall Mr Johnson had first with Mr Macron, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel. Far from a breakthrou­gh in the stand-off over customs checks in Northern Ireland, the bilateral meetings triggered a wave of critical media briefings from all sides.

A source close to Mr Macron said he told Mr Johnson that there “needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationsh­ip” but only if “he keeps his word with the Europeans”.

Ms Merkel is understood to have said she was open to “pragmatic” solutions to the Northern Ireland situation but that the protocol itself could not be renegotiat­ed.

Ms Von der Leyen and Mr Michel told Mr Johnson the “rhetoric needs to be toned down” over Northern Ireland and tweeted: “Both sides must implement what we agreed on. There is complete EU unity on this.”

The protocol imposes customs checks on goods travelling from Britain into NI to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Mr Johnson is now considerin­g triggering Article 16 of the protocol, unilateral­ly reneging on elements of the deal, within weeks.

Next month customs checks on sausages and other chilled meats entering NI from Britain are due to start under the terms of the NI Protocol.

The UK is threatenin­g not to bring them in, with Downing Street concerned checks on that and a range of other products risk underminin­g the integrity of the UK and inflaming tensions in NI. A UK Government source said: “The PM said to Mr Macron ‘How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?’ He replied it was not a good comparison because Paris and Toulouse are both part of the same country.

“The PM replied: ‘Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well’. He was struck by it as quite revealing as to how they see the issue.”

‘It wasn’t an argument. It wasn’t a row. but it was a very serious and forthright presentati­on of issues on our side’

‘How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?

WHEN EU leaders came blinking out into the Cornish sun yesterday morning and spotted the HMS Tamar floating just off the coast they may well have thought it looked familiar.

Ominously camouflage­d and equipped with enough heavy weaponry to take out a rival vessel, the Royal Navy ship was sent to Jersey only last month to police French and British fishermen who were clashing over Brexit changes.

Now it was dominating the horizon off Carbis Bay as the most powerful EU politician­s prepared to give Boris Johnson a concerted dressing-down. As one member of the UK delegation noted, the ship had been brought closer to shore ahead of yesterday’s crunch talks.

This G7 summit was meant to be the moment the Prime Minister finally took his place front and centre on the world stage. After two years of firefighti­ng crises in No10 – first the Brexit logjam, then Covid-19 – it was a chance to look forward and outwards.

As a child, Mr Johnson had once declared he wanted to be “world king”. The start of the summit’s first session, when Mr Johnson outlined his vision for global pandemic recovery while other leaders sat silently and listened, is perhaps the closest he will come to achieving that goal.

The pictures told a similar story. The elbow-to-elbow greetings on the beach, the back pats and bonhomie, woven together with generic compliment­s, all projected a message of unity in the first in-person G7 gathering for almost two years.

But in reality, a familiar cloud loomed: Brexit tensions. No10 officials feared the worst when they awoke on Thursday morning to a front page on The Times that revealed the Government’s Brexit lead, Lord Frost, had been formally dressed down by the US embassy.

News of the démarche – a diplomatic telling off – over Britain’s threats to unilateral­ly breach elements of the Northern Irish Protocol, an agreement which places customs checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland to keep the Irish land border open, had them braced for Joe Biden’s arrival.

So there was relief when the US President, meeting Mr Johnson for the first time, declined to publicly weigh in on the side of Brussels over the row.

Instead, Mr Biden was all smiles for the cameras – joking about how both men had married above their standing – and cooperativ­e in private, according to the UK side.

Mr Biden was said to have displayed all the folksy charm that is at the core of his political image back in America during their one-hour-and-20-minute chat. The leaders bonded over history, specifical­ly Sir Winston Churchill, as they recalled the finest hour of US-UK relations during the Second World War, according to one source familiar with their discussion.

The glowing “love-in” front pages that followed left Downing Street delighted. It was also smooth sailing with non-European leaders. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, sporting a surfer dude haircut, offered trade deal progress in his talks.

But then came Saturday morning and the hat-trick of bilaterals with the EU leaders: First France’s Emmanuel Macron, then Germany’s Angela Merkel, and finally the presidents of the European Commission and Council, respective­ly Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

Alongside the Prime Minister was his Brexit enforcer, the government minister Lord Frost, who wore socks emblazoned with Union Jacks. “That was a bit weird,” an EU official told Politico. “As if we didn’t know he came from the UK.”

The first meeting was the most contentiou­s. Mr Macron had long signposted his willingnes­s to use Mr Johnson’s moment in the global spotlight to turn the screw on Northern Ireland.

Before jetting into Cornwall, the French President had warned there would be no negotiatio­n of the Northern Ireland Protocol, signed only in December before Brexit. There, he tweeted a photo of all the key EU leaders sitting together vowing “the same union, the same determinat­ion to act”.

The Macron-Johnson meeting was less than an hour; the mood, far from genial. “Serious but forthright on all sides,” was how a UK Government source characteri­sed all three meetings.

“It wasn’t an argument. It wasn’t a row. But it was a very serious and forthright presentati­on of issues on our side. To be fair, the EU was also very firm on implementa­tion. That, for us, suggests they’re not looking that closely at changes.”

At one point, pushing back on customs

‘The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the FrancoBrit­ish relationsh­ip. That could happen provided he keeps his word’

checks to be applied on chilled meats moved from Britain into Northern Ireland that start next month, Mr Johnson made a French comparison. “How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?” Mr Johnson asked his counterpar­t.

Mr Macron, according to the UK Government source, replied that it was not a good comparison because Paris and Toulouse are both part of the same country.

“Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well,” Mr Johnson was said to have responded. Afterwards he expressed incredulit­y to aides before hinting at the comment in a television interview.

“I’ve talked to some of our friends here today who do seem to misunderst­and that the UK is a single country and a single territory. I think they just need to get that into their heads,” the Prime Minister told Sky News. Mr Macron’s team was also spinning a tough line. “The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationsh­ip,” a source close to Mr Macron told Reuters. “This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans.” Ms Merkel struck a similar line to her French counterpar­t, according to the UK side.

Throughout the morning it became clear that the EU leaders had both coordinate­d on their arguments and were not willing to budge on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The German Chancellor argued that she was willing to try to come up with “pragmatic” solutions – a word Downing Street often repeats as it seeks compromise­s over customs checks – but made clear the treaty could not simply be ripped up by the British.

The third meeting was less political. Instead Mrs Von der Leyen and Mr Michel, in the words of the UK Government source, spoke as if they were reading from a “script”.

The pair told Mr Johnson the “rhetoric needs to be toned down” over Northern Ireland, according to an EU official – a thinly veiled rebuke of the Prime Minister and his team. They also pledged that the EU nations were in total alignment on the need to implement the Northern Irish Protocol, both tweeting afterwards: “Both sides must implement what we agreed on. There is complete EU unity on this.”

In his media round at lunch time, Mr Johnson made clear that he remains prepared to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows either side to act unilateral­ly if the Protocol “leads to serious economic, societal or environmen­tal difficulti­es that are liable to persist”. That could now happen within weeks, given checks on chilled meat imports into Northern Ireland will kick in on July 1 unless something changes between now and then.

As the sun dipped on the world leaders’ barbecue on the beach last night, no amount of smoked scallops and sea shanties, or aerobatics from the Red Arrows, could hide the reality: the EU and Britain are on the brink of a sausage trade war.

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