Last night, the French president stepped up pressure on Boris Johnson over the Northern Ireland protocol by insisting that “nothing is negotiable” as the G7 summit of world leaders risked being overshadowed by the bitter stalemate on Brexit.
In a provocative intervention as he prepared to travel to the UK, Emmanuel Macron warned Boris Johnson that France was not open to renegotiating any aspect of the protocol – and even appeared to question whether the UK could be trusted.
Asked about British demands for certain aspects of the protocol to be reworked, Macron told reporters at a press conference at the Elysee Palace: “I think that’s okay – wanting to revisit something in July that has was finalized in December after years of discussion and work. “
“We have a protocol,” he continued. “If, after six months, you say that we cannot respect what has been negotiated, it means that nothing can be respected. I believe in the weight of a treaty, I believe in seriousness. Nothing is negotiable. Everything is applicable.
His harsh words came as Johnson was forced to downplay the divisions with US President Joe Biden, calling him a ‘breath of fresh air’, after it emerged that US diplomats protested with Britain’s negotiator. Brexit, Lord Frost, on the risk of fiery tensions in Northern Ireland.
Talks over resolving the impasse over the implementation of the protocol collapsed without a deal earlier this week, and Frost accused the European side of “legal purism” in its interpretation of the deal. He is expected to join the summit on Friday.
Downing Street and the White House reaffirmed their commitment to the Good Friday deal after the talks and stressed the need to jointly resolve the stalemate between the UK and the EU.
But Johnson’s official spokesperson later clarified that did not mean the UK was pulling back from the threat of unilateral action – like invoking Article 16 of the deal, to suspend the protocol. “We continue to keep all options on the table as time is running out,” the spokesperson said.
EU analyst Mujtaba Rahman, of the consultancy firm Eurasia Group, said he now puts a 30% chance on the risk of a trade war between the EU and the UK, in which he said the EU could retaliate by limiting UK fish exports and even cutting off supplies to Jersey and mainland Britain. He said G7 intervention seemed necessary to resolve the situation. “All eyes are on Cornwall as the relationship is on the brink of a precipice. “
The prime minister’s spokesman rejected Macron’s comments, saying: “We are acting absolutely according to what has been agreed and what has been established. He said the protocol had been agreed under “difficult circumstances”, and said the UK had already made more than 10 proposals to resolve the stalemate, and “we haven’t had a response yet”.
“Our view is that the EU continues to prioritize the protection of the single market, even though there is very little risk to it. “
The PM insisted the talks with Biden had been “very good” – although, exceptionally, the couple did not hold a joint press conference, instead making separate statements on camera.
“There is no doubt that under President Biden, the new US administration wants to do an awful lot with the UK, on everything from security to collaboration, to protecting our values in the world together, but also on climate change, ”he added. said the prime minister. “So it’s a big breath of fresh air. It’s new, it’s interesting, and we’re working really hard together.
“One thing we all absolutely want to do is live up to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and make sure we keep the peace process in balance. It’s absolutely common ground, and I’m absolutely optimistic that we can do it.
Biden was also enthusiastic about what he called a “very productive meeting,” referring in his post-conference comments to the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, a term Johnson does not would not be a fan.
Biden said: “We have affirmed the special relationship – this is not said lightly – the special relationship between our peoples and renewed our commitment to uphold the enduring democratic values that our two nations share. “
The couple exchanged gifts, with Biden giving Johnson a US-made bicycle and the Prime Minister giving him a photo of abolitionist Fredrick Douglas, based on a mural in Edinburgh.
Earlier, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, who will meet Johnson in Cornwall alongside Commission Chairman Ursula von der Leyen, said it was “paramount to implement what we have decided” on the North Ireland.
Johnson and Biden were all smiles as they greeted each other on camera ahead of their talks, the location of which had to be moved to the conference hotel in St Michael’s Mount, just off the Cornish coast, due bad weather.
When Biden said the couple “got married over our station,” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to disagree with the president on this or anything else. He added that it was “fantastic” to see Biden.
Although Brexit is not officially on the official agenda, Johnson recently told Atlantic magazine, “We sucked that lemon dry,” the United States is concerned about Frost’s tactics regarding the implementation. implementation of post-Brexit border controls in Northern Ireland.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan hammered Washington’s message on its way to London on Thursday, telling reporters: “Any measure that jeopardizes or undermines the Good Friday deal will not be welcomed by United States. “
Louise Haigh of the Labor Party said: “It is worrying on the eve of such an important summit that Boris Johnson’s actions isolate Britain from our most powerful allies. The Prime Minister personally negotiated the protocol, so he has a responsibility to make it work and protect the precious Good Friday deal. “
More G7 leaders will arrive tomorrow and Johnson will hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Japan, Canada and Italy.
The leaders will hold their first formal summit session in the afternoon, covering recovery from the Covid pandemic, before meeting with the Queen for a reception at the Eden Project.