Macron ally aims waspish Brexit jibe at Sunak as Barnier wades in

Rishi Sunak says companies are ‘queueing up’ to invest in NI

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A staunch ally of French President Emmanuel Macron has aimed a barbed jibe at Rishi Sunak and the UK Government after the unveiling of his plan to break the Brexit deadlock – claiming the PM was admitting the EU was right all along. The comment prompted Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, to reference the bloc’s single market while offering his take on the situation.

Mr Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the bloc’s de facto government, unveiled their plan at a joint press conference on Monday.

The Windsor Framework seeks to reset the fractious relationship between London and Brussels stemming from the Northern Ireland Protocol, the mechanism for preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland which Unionists argue has driven a wedge between the region and the rest of Great Britain.

It introduces a concept dubbed the Stormont Brake, billed as offering members of the Northern Ireland Assembly a veto on EU legislation “in exceptional circumstances”.

Hailing his agreement during a visit to Belfast yesterday, Mr Sunak said: “Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position, a unique position in the entire world, European continent.”

Natalie Loiseau, a member of Mr Macron’s La Republique en Marche party and France’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, was elected to the European Parliament in 2019.

Responding to a tweet by Radio 4 presenter David Aaronovitch, she posted: “Rishi Sunak is right to acknowledge how positive it is to belong to the EU single market.

“Too bad his predecessors did everything they could to turn away from this incredible asset. At least Northern Ireland still benefits from it and the UK Prime Minister recognises it.”

Ms Loiseau, 58, has form when it comes to commenting on Brexit.

In March 2019, at a time when bitter Parliamentary wrangling had forced Theresa May’s Government to postpone the day the UK quit the bloc, she posted a joke on her private Facebook page in which she claimed to own a cat called Brexit.

She said: “He wakes me up every morning meowing to death because he wants to go out, and then when I open the door he stays put, undecided, and then glares at me when I put him out.”

The remark picked up international media coverage, and she later clarified she did not actually own a cat at all.

Mr Barnier, a familiar face during the protracted negotiations following the 2016 referendum and an unsuccessful French Presidential candidate last year, also had his say, again via Twitter, and also extolled the benefits of close ties with Europe.

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He posted: “A new chapter in Brexit and EU-UK relations, finally.

“Goes to show how much you gain by trust in European relations rather than the zero-sum game of past governments. In politics, always believe in dynamic compromises.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol needs to safeguard peace and stability and the single market.”

In a second tweet, he added: “It’s with time and proper implementation that this positive agreement will have to prove its worth to Northern Ireland/United Kingdom as well as to Ireland/EU.”

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