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Britain calls EU view of N. Ireland ‘offensive’ in Brexit spat

The “sausage wars” between Britain and the European Union escalated Sunday when a senior British official accused the bloc’s leaders of holding “offensive” views about the status of Northern Ireland.

The comments by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab followed a report in the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that President Emmanuel Macron of France had suggested that Northern Ireland was not part of the same country as mainland Britain.

That version of events was disputed by Macron’s office, although it did not deny that he had discussed the status of Northern Ireland with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, at the Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, England.

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The rift stems from something called the Northern Ireland protocol, which was designed to avoid a hard border after Brexit between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member country. But the protocol left Northern Ireland straddling the British and EU trading systems, and that could lead to shortages of some products in Northern Ireland, particularly chilled meats like sausages, when some of its provisions are scheduled to take full effect at the end of the month.

The two sides have been trying for months to find a more workable arrangement, but as the deadline approaches, things have grown increasingly heated, with each accusing the other of bad faith and seeking to claim whatever high ground there is in the dispute.

Johnson argues that the EU is being overzealous in its enforcement demands and inflexible in seeking solutions. The bloc’s officials have accused Britain of failing to implement the terms of a treaty Johnson himself agreed to and ratified.

The current bickering appears to have arisen when Johnson questioned how Macron would react if shipments of Toulouse sausages to Paris were impeded.

In a BBC interview, Raab said he would not “divulge the detail of what was discussed behind closed doors,” but then took the opportunity to criticize the EU’s leadership.

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“What I can tell you is, various EU figures here, but frankly for months now, and years, have characterized Northern Ireland as somehow a separate country, and that is wrong.”

He added, “It is a failure to understand the facts.”

Macron’s office said that the exchange with Johnson took place but said the French president was talking about Toulouse and Paris being part of a “single geographic area,” not about whether Northern Ireland was legally part of the United Kingdom.

Speaking at a news conference later, Macron tried to make light of the affair, saying that France has “many cities, many regions” with excellent sausages. He added, “Let us not waste time with controversies that are often created in corridors and antechambers.”

The dispute has widened in recent months, with President Biden warning Johnson in quite blunt terms not to undermine or renounce the protocol. That, in turn, might lead to a hard land border that could threaten the 1998 Good Friday agreement that ended three decades of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s unionist and loyalist parties, which favor remaining in the United Kingdom, were outraged by the protocol, calling it a “betrayal” because Johnson broke a promise never to accept a border between them and the rest of Britain. That has provoked angry protests in Northern Ireland, and could spark more in the summer’s “marching season.”