The Irish Times view on G7 summit: Northern Ireland protocol casts a long shadow

Protocol appears to muscle into an agenda dominated by far weightier global events

The Northern Ireland protocol cast a long shadow over the G7 Cornwall summit and Boris Johnson's hopes to use it to rebrand the UK as an independent global leader. But leadership, like currency, depends on sorely lacking trust, on a perception that one's word – and treaties – are to be honoured.

The G7 was meatier and more substantive than many of its previous talk-shop incarnations

A tiff on the beach between President Emmanuel Macron and Johnson over whether the North and Toulouse were comparable capped an uncomfortable series of bilateral meetings for the prime minister with EU Commission and Council leaders, Chancellor Merkel and President Biden, where the protocol appears to have muscled into an agenda dominated by far weightier global events.

French briefers insist Macron was not saying that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK, but making a point it was made up of four nations. Johnson was insisting he would do “whatever it takes” to defend the “UK’s territorial integrity” including, he hinted, suspending the protocol, and accusing the EU of being inflexible and “purist”. The prospects of a damaging trade war in the event of further UK unilateral extensions of grace periods still looms uncomfortably large.

Despite the row on the sidelines, however, the G7 was meatier and more substantive than many of its previous talk-shop incarnations. The welcome US return to the multilateralist fold saw multi-billion dollar pledges on tackling coronavirus globally – one billion doses of vaccine for developing countries – a pre-summit deal on a shared approach to corporate taxation, and the endorsement of a western counterweight to China’s Belt and Road international infrastructure initiative. Or what Johnson called less ambitiously a “green belt and road” plan, with richer countries helping to fund schemes that reduce carbon emissions.


The ambiguity reflected significant differences between the US and Europe on how to counter China's growing influence in the developing world and respond to its trade practices, human rights abuses and military projection in the South China Sea. Biden has made a tough line central to his approach and was hoping to enlist G7 allies, while the EU and countries like Germany and Italy worry about risking their huge trade and investment deals with Beijing or accelerating what has increasingly looked like a new Cold War.

On climate change the leaders pledged to jointly mobilise $100 billion per year from public and private sources for developing world efforts, agreed to phase out petrol and diesel cars and to shut down all coal plants that do not use emissions-capturing technology as soon as possible. However, only Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy announced new domestic climate funding programmes. The hope is that the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November will flesh out more solid commitments.