FALMOUTH, England – After securing a relatively Brexit-free zone during his hearing with US President Joe Biden, Boris Johnson must have known he couldn’t avoid the topic all through the G7 weekend.
On the second day of the summit, the British Prime Minister held a meeting after the EU leaders’ meeting urging him on his country’s commitment to fully implement the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Johnson was clearly unhappy with the ear.
“I have spoken to some of our friends here today who seem to fail to understand that the UK is one country and one territory,” he told Sky News. “I think they just need to get that into their heads.”
Britain disagrees with EU countries and the US over its desire to change a Brexit protocol that imposed controls on British goods entering Northern Ireland. The protocol is an attempt to preserve the open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, a key part of the 1998 Good Friday deal to end decades of violence in the north.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Johnson on Saturday he was ready for a “reset” in Franco-British relations, but stressed the need for the UK to “live up to the commitment it has made to the Europeans and the framework defined by the Brexit agreement “.
An official at the Élysée Palace stressed that, contrary to certain reports, the French president had not gone so far as to pose this as a “condition” for a reset of the relationship.
As EU leaders presented a united front in their engagement with Johnson, Macron had been particularly fiery in his warnings ahead of his trip to Cornwall that the Northern Ireland protocol could not be revisited.
A spokesperson for Downing Street said after their meeting that Johnson “has made clear his desire for pragmatism and compromise on all sides, but stressed that protecting the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday) in all its dimensions was paramount “.
Johnson then met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and jointly with EU leaders – Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel.
David Frost, UK Minister for EU Relations, attended the meeting with von der Leyen and Michel wearing Union Jack printed socks, an unsubtle message that visitors to Brussels saw loud and clear .
“It was a little weird, like making a statement,” said a senior EU official. “As if we didn’t know he was from the UK. Thank you for reminding us.
Referring to Frost at one point, Johnson reportedly said, “He’s not the tough one. I am.”
The meeting, which included the three leaders and four advisers on each side, was tense, senior official said, with Johnson complaining about the Northern Ireland protocol by releasing statistics on customs checks that the European side considered unverifiable .
“Known positions have been reiterated,” the senior official said, adding that the EU was simply insisting that the UK join the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade Agreement.
“We are not against ensuring a smooth and smooth flow of goods between the UK and Ireland, far from it, but leaving the single market has consequences… You cannot have the same access as that you had a Member State, period, ”the official said. “He wants us to find a solution to his problem.
“They discussed the need to find a solution,” Johnson’s spokesperson said at the meeting. “The will of the Prime Minister now is to work within the framework of the existing protocol to find radical changes and pragmatic solutions. This is our immediate goal.
He did not say whether they had discussed the possibility of the UK unilaterally delaying full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying “all options are on the table”.
In talks on Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reiterated the UK’s accusation that the EU has taken a “purist” approach to the protocol.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today show: “They can be more pragmatic about implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in a win-win way or they can be bloody and purist about it , in which case I am afraid that we will not allow the integrity of the United Kingdom to be threatened.
Raab added on Sky News: “The change must come from [European] on the side of the Commission.
There is now less than a month to go before full controls come into effect, which would prevent chilled meats from crossing the Irish Sea from Britain – an eventuality that has once been dubbed the ‘sausage war’ UK.
As questions over Northern Ireland dominated the attention of the G7 host on Saturday morning, Downing Street officials scrambled to point out that the meetings had encompassed a number of other issues, including the need to act as a counterweight to China and Russia and to increase the global vaccine. supply.
Karl Mathiesen and David Herszenhorn contributed reporting.