Boris Johnson has sought to downplay reports of a split with the EU over Northern Ireland at the end of the G7 summit, although he insisted it was the job of the government “to protect the territorial integrity” of the United Kingdom.
Speaking at a press conference at the end of the summit, the prime minister was careful not to escalate a row that had escalated following a report that Frenchman Emmanuel Macron had suggested that the Northern Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom.
“What I am saying is that we will do whatever it takes to protect the territorial integrity of the UK,” Johnson said, but declined to repeat what the Foreign Secretary said, Dominic Raab, who said the comments reported by Macron were “offensive”. ”.
The row had threatened to overshadow the G7 summit in Cornwall, which ended on Sunday afternoon, the first in-person gathering of world leaders since the start of the pandemic.
“But in fact, what happened at that summit was that there was a colossal amount of work on topics that had absolutely nothing to do with Brexit,” Johnson added.
The Prime Minister also spoke of the origins of the pandemic. Although he said that “the advice we got” was that it didn’t look like Covid-19 came from a lab, he said Western leaders had agreed to “strengthen the World Organization for health ”, in a decision likely to irritate China. , accused of not being completely transparent about the origins of the pandemic.
They wanted the WHO to have powers like international weapons inspectors, Johnson said, who could “go to the scene and try to determine as independently as possible what exactly is going on” so people can have confidence. at the origin of these diseases.
But the Prime Minister has offered little public comment on whether the full unblocking of coronavirus restrictions in England, scheduled for June 21, would be delayed by at least a month until the start of the school holidays in England. summer, as widely expected.
“No final decision has been taken,” the prime minister said at the event in the early afternoon, and he promised to release “all the information” on Monday as scheduled.
On Saturday evening, the Daily Telegraph reported that Johnson had tried to explain his frustration with the Brexit protocol in Northern Ireland by asking the French president what he would do if the Toulouse sausages could not be moved to Paris.
Macron reportedly responded by saying the comparison did not work because Paris and Toulouse were both part of the same country, mistakenly suggesting that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK.
The current dispute is over the EU’s decision to ban chilled meats from crossing the Irish Sea from Britain, which has earned it the nickname the ‘sausage war’.
The tensions, however, have potentially deeper consequences. Johnson threatened on Saturday to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol, which was supposed to facilitate trade on the UK’s only land border with the EU.
French diplomatic sources dismissed the idea that Macron misinterpreted Northern Ireland’s status, suggesting he had simply pointed out that it was separated from Britain by sea. “I’m sure let the president know that Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain, ”the source said.
Earlier on Sunday, Raab was on the attack when asked what he thought of the view that Northern Ireland had a separate status from the rest of the UK.
“I think it’s offensive. We do not dream of talking about the region of northern Italy, the German Länder or other provinces, in particular those where there is nationalist pressure, we do not dream of talking about these regions in these terms ”, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The press conference clashed at the start of England’s game against Croatia, where some supporters booed players who knelt early in the game. Johnson did not directly condemn the boos, but instead said: “Everyone should be cheering on England. “