UK-EU tensions over Northern Ireland dominate G7 summit but common ground found on China

Mon 14 Jun 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The row between UK and EU leaders over the Northern Ireland Protocol dominated proceedings at the G7 summit in Cornwall over the weekend.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held talks with multiple European leaders at Carbis Bay, but a government insider told the Sun that European leaders were “reading from the same script” in scolding the UK over its positions on the Protocol.

Tear it up

The paper reports that Johnson is “close to tearing up the Protocol” due to the “draconian customs checks” it allegedly requires.

He agreed to the rules for post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland as part of the Withdrawal Agreement in 2019.

The Protocol is designed to maintain peace on the island of Ireland by avoiding the need for a hard border, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the UK.

Article 16

Protocol rules are set to become more onerous from next month when new checks will be required on chilled meat products including sausages.

Talks last week for a pathway to easing trade friction in the region did not make a breakthrough however, as noted in the IOE&IT Daily Update .

Johnson has since warned the EU that he could unilaterally suspend parts of the Protocol.

“If the Protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16,” he said.

Lord Frost, who attended the G7 wearing Union Jack socks, will resume talks this week with his counterpart Maros Sefcovic to attempt to find a solution.

'Incoherences'

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the summit that the British PM was well aware of the “incoherences” in the agreement he signed up to in 2019 but that he must now act “professionally”, reports the Telegraph.

Macron also allegedly commented that Northern Ireland and the UK were not the same country.

This has enraged UK politicians, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab labelling comments from EU leaders including Macron “offensive”, according to the Telegraph.

An Elysée official clarified that the French President was making a point about geography, telling the FT: “The president said that Toulouse and Paris are in single geographical territory. Northern Ireland is on an island.”

China relations

The issue of how to deal with China saw greater consensus from the G7 leaders.

US President Joe Biden looked to the summit as the moment the west toughened its stance towards China, developing a “democratic” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, reports the FT.

European leaders, including Johnson, adopted a more nuanced tone, with one European diplomat saying: “Our approach is we need to co-operate with China on issues like climate change, compete in areas like global supply chains and contest China’s record in areas like human rights.”

However, according to Politico, the statement issued by the G7 amounted to the strongest admonishment of China in nearly a decade, mentioning issues that will anger Beijing, including the Hong Kong clampdown, encroachment on Taiwan and forced labour.

Western plan

Joe Biden led calls to offer poor countries a new “democratic” source of infrastructure finance, providing an alternative to Chinese loans.

The western plan aims to be a greener programme to reduce carbon emissions through $100bn a year in new investments.