Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned Boris Johnson that efforts to reset relations between Paris and London will fail unless the British prime minister keeps his word on the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland.
At a breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Cornwall, Macron made it clear that he expected Johnson to abide by the Brexit agreement sealed with the EU last December.
The EU has threatened to punish Britain – including the imposition of trade sanctions – if Johnson unilaterally breaks commitments on border controls under the Northern Ireland protocol, part of its Brexit deal .
Macron is seen by Downing Street as the EU’s toughest national leader on the issue. Arguments between French presidents and British prime ministers at world summits are common – and often played out well nationally.
But Macron’s warning has underscored the seriousness with which the EU considers the growing crisis in Northern Ireland.
Joe Biden, President of the United States, expressed his deep concern for the future of the peace process.
At a breakfast meeting held in English, the Elysée said Macron told Johnson he was ready to reset relations with London and that Britain and France had many common interests.
“The president, however, strongly emphasized that this new commitment requires the British to honor the promises made to Europeans and to respect the Brexit agreement,” the Elysée said.
The protocol requires Britain to check certain goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland to prevent them from passing unchecked across the open border to Ireland, an EU member, and in the single market.
The introduction of an effective trade border into UK territory has infuriated pro-UK trade unionists in Northern Ireland and added to tensions in the region.
Johnson argues that the EU is uncompromising in the way it applies the protocol and a meeting will take place later this month on the issue of controls on refrigerated meat products across the Irish Sea.
The EU bans the import of chilled meat – including sausages and minced beef. A “grace period” to allow the continued sale of refrigerated British meat products in NI expires at the end of June.
Johnson reserved the right to unilaterally ignore the ban in a move that the EU warned could trigger retaliation in terms of the EU / UK Brexit trade and cooperation agreement.
Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, confirmed last week that this could include trade sanctions, generating fears of a trade war or – in the tabloid headlines – a “sausage war”.
Johnson also held talks Saturday morning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.