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by Adam Payne
11 June 2021
Issues around Northern Ireland Protocol expected to overshadow Boris Johnson and Joe Biden’s G7 meeting

Northern Ireland road sign - Image credit: PA Images

Issues around Northern Ireland Protocol expected to overshadow Boris Johnson and Joe Biden’s G7 meeting

The Prime Minister’s meeting with Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Cornwall, their first in-person meeting, will be overshadowed by US concerns over tensions in Northern Ireland and the worsening UK-EU row over how best to implement the trade border agreed last year.

The US president is expected to raise the ongoing dispute over the post-Brexit treaty.

US politicians and senior Irish-American figures have had months of detailed talks with groups in Northern Ireland about the Northern Ireland Protocol in the run-up to Biden meeting with Boris Johnson today.

The Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, which represents retail, manufacturing, farming and other industries in the province, has had meetings with senior congressmen and women on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in recent weeks to discuss the UK-EU negotiations over the protocol.

The group, which is comprised of 17 trade associations, has also met with the National Committee On American Foreign Policy — a highly-influential US think tank comprised of several former ambassadors and government officials with close links to the White House.

Northern Irish business leaders have also spent the last few months in talks with US diplomats based in the UK about the Northern Ireland Protocol and UK-EU negotiations.

Biden has launched his own major intervention on the issue. According to The Times the US president ordered his officials to issue the UK Government a rare diplomatic rebuke over its refusal to compromise in joint committee talks with the EU.

Yael Lempert, the most senior US representative in the UK, told Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost, who oversees the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU, that Johnson's approach was inflaming tensions in Northern Ireland, according to the report.

The UK Government and the EU are at loggerheads over how the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed as part of last year's Brexit negotiations and created a new trade border in the Irish Sea, should be implemented.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, yesterday said Brussels’ patience with UK was “wearing very, very thin” after talks in London with Frost failed to produce a breakthrough.

Biden, whose great-grandparents were born in Ireland and has described himself as Irish, will raise the protocol with Johnson after months of in-depth conversations between figures in Washington and groups in Northern Ireland.

The EU has accused Boris Johnson's government of betraying its commitment to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol after it came into effect on 1 January.

However, the government says Brussels is taking an over-legalistic approach to the new rules and regulations for the province that is causing undue disruption for businesses and people there.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland continues to follow EU rules in order to avoid a contentious hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

This means that businesses in Great Britain sending goods to Northern Ireland must complete time-consuming paperwork, particularly for food and agrifood.

The row is expected to escalate later this month if the UK Government fulfils its threat to unilaterally extend a grace period covering British sausage and chilled meat exports to Northern Ireland – a dispute now dubbed “sausage wars”.

Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, yesterday said the president had “deep concerns” that the ongoing stand-off could endanger peace in the province.

The Northern Irish business community is pushing for the government to sign a veterinary agreement with the EU that would remove the majority of checks taking place on trade across the Irish Sea.

However, Johnson and Frost are currently opposed to this proposal as they say aligning with the bloc’s rules would mean giving away national sovereignty and defeat the purpose of Brexit.

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Brexit

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