G7: Johnson hails UK’s ‘indestructible relationship’ with US

Concern in Dublin that deterioration in EU and UK relations over protocol is inevitable

 British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday said the UK and EU would ‘sort out’ a row over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Photograph: Getty

British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday said the UK and EU would ‘sort out’ a row over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Photograph: Getty


Boris Johnson has claimed the UK has an “indestructible relationship” with the US, after his bilateral meeting on Thursday with president Joe Biden.

The British prime minister is known not to be keen on the well-worn phrase “special relationship”, believing it makes the UK look weak.

But in an interview with the BBC after the pair met, he sought to underscore the closeness between the two nations, despite Mr Biden’s concerns about the damaging standoff with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Look, I don’t mind the phrase ‘special relationship’ because it is special. But you know, it encompasses a reality which is that the UK and the US have a real congruence of views on some stuff that really matters to the world. And so we believe very strongly in, in democracy, we believe in human rights, we believe in the rules based international order, we believe in the transatlantic alliance,” Mr Johnson said.

Asked what he would call the connection between the two countries, he said, “you can call it the ‘deep and meaningful relationship’, whatever you want, the, the ‘indestructible relationship’. It’s a relationship that has endured for a very long time, and has been an important part of peace and prosperity both in Europe and around the world”.

Northern Ireland protocol

Mr Johnson denied Mr Biden had told him to resolve the standoff with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, instead reiterating the importance to both the UK and the US of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement.

It emerged as Mr Biden arrived in the UK that senior US diplomats had warned the UK’s combative Brexit negotiator, David Frost, that his actions risked inflaming tensions in Northern Ireland.

Mr Frost will attend the G7 summit on Friday. Asked about the row with the EU, Mr Johnson said repeatedly that the two sides would “sort it out”.

But the prime minister appeared to criticise the EU’s approach to implementing the protocol. “There are ways of enforcing the protocol, ways of making it work, that may be excessively burdensome,” he said. “I just give you one statistic: 20 per cent of the checks conducted across the whole of the perimeter of the EU are now done in Northern Ireland, three times as many as happen in Rotterdam.”

Pressed on whether an agreement could be reached over the weekend, with EU chiefs and the French, German and Italian leaders present, he said the summit would be focused on other questions.

“No, no, no, no. We’re focusing here on a huge range of things that the G7 wants to look at. So we’re looking at the post-pandemic world, we’re looking at what we can do to make sure that we don’t have the world caught unprepared again, or the western world anyway, for a pandemic in the way that we were.”

After the meeting with Mr Biden, the UK promised to continue working with the EU to find a solution – but is also not ruling out taking unilateral action. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said as he prepared to fly to Cornwall that “nothing is negotiable” about the protocol.

A ban on chilled meats including sausages and mincemeat being exported from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, which abides by EU agrifood rules, is due to come into force on June 30th.

Growing alarm

Despite Thursday’s show of harmony, there is growing alarm in Irish Government circles that a further deterioration in relations between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol is inevitable, with potentially destabilising effects on the North.

The European commissioner who is dealing with the British government, Maros Sefcovic, told EU governments that the bloc was conscious of the marching season in the North and would make offers of some concessions to the UK in the ongoing talks, including an offer of independent arbitration, rather than referring disputes to the European Court of Justice, according to a person briefed on the exchange.

However, Mr Sefcovic also told governments that the EU was preparing “retaliatory measures” should the UK proceed with further unilateral extensions of interim arrangements on July 1st.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Thursday night there was scope for compromise within the parameters of the protocol.

“Maybe the EU does need to show flexibility and pragmatism. But the UK also needs to be serious about implementing a deal that they signed up to,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ Prime Time.

Three dimensions

In their joint statement, Mr Biden and Mr Johnson stressed the role of the United States alongside Britain and Ireland in working with people in Northern Ireland to negotiate the Belfast Agreement.

They noted the three dimensions of the agreement, which established North-South and British-Irish structures alongside power-sharing within Northern Ireland.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel will take part in the G7 summit from Friday, along with three EU heads of government: Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi.

Ms von der Leyen repeated the EU’s warning to Britain against further unilateral action on the protocol and Mr Michel said the EU was ready to “use all the tools we have in order to make sure that we defend our interest, that we protect the integrity of the single market, and that we guarantee the level playing field”.

Mr Macron has warned Mr Johnson that France is not open to renegotiating any aspect of the protocol. Asked about British demands for aspects of the protocol to be reworked, Mr Macron told journalists at an Elysee press conference: “I think this is not serious - to want to have another look at something in July that was finalised in December after years of discussions and work.”

“We have a protocol,” he continued. “If after six months you say we cannot respect what was negotiated, then that says nothing can be respected. I believe in the weight of a treaty, I believe in taking a serious approach. Nothing is negotiable. Everything is applicable.”

Other G7 leaders will arrive in Cornwall on Friday, and they are due to discuss the recovery from the pandemic at the first formal session in the afternoon, before meeting the Queen at the Eden Project. PA and Guardian