Dominic Raab has lashed out at European leaders for expressing “offensive” attitudes about the UK, after Emmanuel Macron was accused of disputing whether Northern Ireland was an integral part of the country.
The Foreign Secretary said that “various figures here in Carbis Bay” had for years been making such a suggestion, which he stressed was “wrong” and a “failure to understand the facts”.
His intervention came after the French president was said to have enraged Boris Johnson during bilateral talks on the fringes of the G7 summit on Saturday morning.
A UK government source told The Telegraph: “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’.”
Mr Raab warned that airing such attitudes “causes damage to businesses from both communities in Northern Ireland” and “creates deep consternation” in the region.
The British Government would never question the status of regions in other European countries, he said, as he demanded “a bit of respect from the other side”.
Appearing on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, the Foreign Secretary added: “We wouldn’t dream of talking of the northern region of Italy, the German Lander, or other provinces, particularly ones where there are these nationalist pressures… in those terms.”
Edwin Poots, the DUP leader, also weighed in on the escalating diplomatic row, declaring he has sent Mr Macron a copy of the Belfast Agreement to remind him about Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.
He also branded the French president’s attitude “offensive” and said it “demands a statement from the French administration which recognises Northern Ireland’s constitutional status”.
Mr Johnson told reporters that he “continuously” makes the point that Northern Ireland is part of “one great indivisible United Kingdom”.
Over the weekend Mr Macron, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and other EU chiefs signalled their intransigence over the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has caused disruption to the flow of food, plants and other goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister hit back on Sunday, however, warning he will do “whatever it takes” to protect the territorial integrity of the country, amid fears about a fresh tranche of custom checks on sausages and chilled goods that are set to start from next month.
He called on EU leaders to be less “theological” in their application of the terms of the agreement, and to agree to a more “pragmatic” approach.
The row risked overshadowing the G7 summit, but Mr Johnson insisted it had formed only a small part of the discussions that took place at Carbis Bay.
“The vast, vast majority of the conversations that we have had over the last three or four days have been about other subjects and there has been a fantastic degree of harmony between the leaders of our countries,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference to sum up the three-day meeting, which marked Joe Biden’s first international trip since he became US president, Mr Johnson paid tribute to the G7 leaders’ pledge to donate more than a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries.
He also highlighted the joint commitment to cut emissions and seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, reach net zero emissions by 2050, and conserve or protect at least 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.
Mr Johnson said: “While it’s fantastic that every one of the G7 countries has pledged to wipe out our contributions to climate change, we need to make sure we’re achieving that as fast as we can and helping developing countries at the same time.”
He added that the countries taking part in the summit – the G7 of UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy along with guests Australia, South Africa, India and South Korea – were united by “democratic values”.