Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called for “a bit of respect” from EU leaders as he claimed the bloc’s senior figures “serially” talk about Northern Ireland “as if it were somehow a different country from the UK”.
The UK and EU are currently at loggerheads over the implementation of post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland – known as the Northern Ireland Protocol – ahead of the end of a “grace period” for some border checks at the end of this month.
The row has threatened to overshadow the UK’s hosting of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, this weekend – during which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed some in the EU needed to “get into their heads” that the UK is a single country.
The prime minister’s ire is reported to have been raised during his bilateral talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday morning.
Mr Johnson is said to have attempted to explain his frustration with the protocol by asking what Mr Macron would do if sausages from Toulouse could not be moved to Paris.
The French president was claimed to have responded by arguing the comparison did not work because Paris and Toulouse were both part of the same country, thereby suggesting Northern Ireland is not within the UK.
Asked by Sky News at the G7 summit if those reports were true, Mr Raab said “as a matter of diplomatic professionalism” he would not “spill the beans”.
But he added: “No one should be surprised by these reports and it’s not just one figure.
“We have serially seen senior EU figures talk about Northern Ireland as if it were somehow a different country from the UK.
“That is not only offensive, it has real world effects on the communities in Northern Ireland – it creates great concern, great consternation.
“Could you imagine if we talked about Catalonia, the Flemish part of Belgium, one of the Lander in Germany, northern Italy, Corsica in France as different countries?
“We need a bit of respect here and also, frankly, a bit of appreciation of the situation for all communities in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Raab claimed the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol had been “very lopsided” and had had “real life effects” on people in Northern Ireland.
“What we cannot have is the continuing disruption of trade and effectively try to change the status of Northern Ireland, contrary to the consent and wishes of the people, which is not just contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol but also to the Belfast Agreement,” the foreign secretary added.
Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin has told Sky News there is “a route” to resolving tensions over the protocol.
He urged Mr Johnson to “very seriously consider” a veterinary-type agreement with the EU to eliminate “up to 80% of checks” on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
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