Boris Johnson will face renewed pressure from European leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall to resolve post-Brexit tensions in Northern Ireland after the British prime minister refused to accept a plan to cut controls at the summit. border in the region in line with EU food rules.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has sought to reassure Johnson that agreeing to abide by Brussels ’rules on food and animal controls does not preclude the prospects of a future UK-US trade agreement. But Downing Street insists the idea is a starter.
Biden and Johnson discussed Northern Ireland’s trade rules in their first face-to-face meeting Thursday ahead of the three-day G7 summit beginning Friday.
The head of the UK told the BBC that Biden had not sounded the alarm over his position on the issue at Thursday’s meeting.
But Johnson’s meetings with European leaders at the summit may not be diplomatic. He will meet European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the sidelines of the summit on Saturday.
Johnson will also hold bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi meets.
Macron, seen in London as a tougher line the question of Northern Ireland, warned before the G7 that it was “not serious” about reopening the Brexit deal.
“I don’t think it’s serious to want to revisit in July what we finalized after years of debate and work in December,” the French president told a news conference Thursday. “This is not a problem between the UK and France, it is a problem between Europeans and the UK.”
Although Biden was told by Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to the United States of America, that he had “deep” concerns about the state of the peace process in Northern Ireland, the question did not dominated the president’s meeting with Johnson, British aides said.
Instead, the British prime minister said the relationship between the UK and the US was not only “special” but “indestructible”, describing Biden’s arrival on the world stage – after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency – as “a breath of fresh air”.
The United States has encouraged Johnson and the EU to reach a compromise on how best to implement the Northern Ireland protocol – the part of Johnson’s Brexit agreement that covers the border issue in the region.
The protocol leaves an open border on the island of Ireland – the Republic of Ireland is part of the EU – but establishes controls on certain products ranging from Britain to Northern Ireland in the event that they end up crossing the EU’s single market.
Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic returned to Britain this week to accept a “Swiss” model, in which the UK would align itself with Brussels ’food and agricultural controls to abruptly cut the need for inspections at the border in the ports of the Irish sea.
The United States has encouraged Britain to accept this proposal. Yael Lempert, America’s oldest diplomat in Britain, suggested to David Frost, Britain’s Brexit minister, this month that such an agreement be backed by Washington.
She said Biden had assured her that she would “have no negative influence on the chances of reaching a US-UK free trade agreement”, according to a British note from the meeting reported by the Times. Downing Street did not deny the existence of the note, but U.S. officials insisted that the June 3 exchange was not “accentuated” in tone.
Britain has argued that it needs flexibility to establish its rules – particularly in the sensitive area of agriculture – to secure trade agreements with countries with different standards, particularly the United States.
But Johnson’s allies said Britain could never accept that it be bound by Brussels rules. “It’s a matter of principle,” one said. “We’re not going down this road.”
British officials insist that if Britain applied the rules of EU agriculture, it would complicate a trade agreement with the United States given the power of the American agricultural lobby in the US Congress.
But Biden showed little enthusiasm for a first trade deal with the UK anyway. “It has hardly been discussed,” an official told reporters about the president’s discussions with Johnson. “It’s not a priority for him.”
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