Boris Johnson reiterates plan to scrap Northern Ireland protocol at G7

British minister minister says he is ‘optimistic’ of resolution with EU in wake of criticism from US president

British prime minister Boris Johnson has said he hopes to have legislation overriding parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol operational by the end of the year.

Ahead of the first parliamentary reading in London, Mr Johnson said he was “optimistic” of securing further “flexibility” from the European Commission, but said the deal had not loomed large in talks with other leaders at the G7 meeting in Bavaria.

“The interesting thing is how little this conversation is being had, certainly here,” he told journalists. Last month US president Joe Biden warned Mr Johnson about unilateral changes and urged him to continue engaging” with Brussels.

In Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps, where he was attending the G7 summit, Mr Johnson insisted his government’s changes would address imbalance in the agreement with the EU.

“You have got one tradition, one community, that feels that things really aren’t working in a way that they like or understand, you’ve got unnecessary barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said. “All we are saying is you can get rid of those whilst not in any way endangering the EU single market.”

He said it was possible the changes could be made “very fast, parliament willing” but that it would be “even better” if London could “get some of that flexibility we need in our conversations with [European Commission vice-president] Maroš Šefčovič”.

Speaking in Dublin, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said any “unilateral decision to breach international law is a major, serious development”.

He added: “There can be no getting out of that and one cannot trivialise the breaching of an international agreement between the United Kingdom government and the European Union.”

He said he is concerned at “a trend towards unilateralism” that he claimed was emanating from the UK government. “We’ve had it on the protocol, we’ve had it on legacy issues.”

He said the presidents of the European Commission and EU Council are also concerned at Downing Street’s stance.

“This is not a good move by the British government and it has to accept that unilateralism does not work in the context of the Good Friday Agreement or indeed in the context of good relationships with your neighbours and with the European Union.”

In the first session on Monday, Ukrainian president Volodomir Zelenskiy addressed G7 leaders in Bavaria via a closed video link.

Ahead of the meeting the president demanded western allies provide air defence systems to protect major cities against rocket strikes.

“We talk about this every day with our partners. There are already some agreements,” he said, referring to a system already promised by Germany.

US officials in Bavaria said they are set to announce this week a Norwegian-made advanced surface-to-air missile defence system for Ukraine.

After their talks with Mr Zelenskiy, G7 leaders renewed their condemnation of Russia’s attack and their promises to support Ukraine with economic, military and humanitarian assistance.

“We stand ready to further strengthen Ukraine’s resilience by expanding our cooperation in intelligence and information sharing, information security, as well as maritime security,” they added, hours after Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa was struck again in overnight attacks.

Kyiv experienced its first rocket since early June on Sunday, just as G7 leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps.

Sessions in Bavaria on Monday will focus on climate measures and food security concerns, with talks in the afternoon with UN general secretary Antonio Guterres.

“Talks are ongoing day and night... so that we succeed in exporting grain from Ukraine,” said Chancellor Scholz to German breakfast television.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has loomed large over this three-day gathering, with background negotiations continuing on further sanctions against Russian energy and gold.

While US officials say a deal is imminent on a price cap on Moscow’s oil revenues, German officials have said any such agreement requires further work.

Without going into detail, G7 leaders promised on Monday to “continue our targeted use of coordinated sanctions for as long as necessary, acting in unison at every stage”.

Berlin has added that financing remains unclear for a G7 infrastructure fund, announced on Sunday as an alternative to a similar Chinese initiative.

Travel to and from the G7 meeting venue of Schloss Elmau, a five-star Alpine resort, were hampered on Monday morning by protestors.

Meanwhile in Berlin, protestors blocked all entrances to the federal finance ministry. Demanding debt relief for countries most vulnerable to climate change, around 40 demonstrators held a sit-down protest before the main entrances while others glued their hands to the ministry facade.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times