LONDON – As President Joe Biden seeks to unite Western democracies to counter China’s growing global influence at the Group of Seven world leaders meeting on Saturday, one issue threatens to divide his European counterparts: Brexit.
Although Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is not officially on the G-7’s agenda during the two-day seaside rally in Cornwall, England, a diplomatic row over Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that borders the 27 bloc countries, continued to step up.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held separate meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday. He also spoke with representatives of the EU.
Subsequently, he accused the European bloc of failing to take a “sane or pragmatic” approach to post-Brexit deals and threatened to use an emergency clause to suspend agreed rules if the bloc does not compromise.
The EU is angry at Britain’s delay in implementing new controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, while Britain says these controls place a heavy burden on enterprises and destabilize the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland.
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The diplomatic row – over what is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol – has drawn Biden, who is concerned about the potential threat to the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland, which put end to three decades of conflict, known as the Troubles.
Prior to the president’s arrival in England earlier this week, some British newspapers were outraged by the perception that Biden, who has Irish ancestors and has criticized Brexit in the past, did not support the British government’s position.
However, Johnson brushed off such rumors when the pair first met on Thursday, telling media they were “in perfect harmony” on the issues.
“The Good Friday Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland are paramount”, The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen tweeted after meeting Johnson at the G-7 on Saturday. “We want the best possible relationship with the UK. Both sides need to implement what we agreed to. There is full EU unity on this.”
The EU threatens legal action if the UK does not fully introduce controls under the protocol next month, which includes a ban on chilled meats such as sausages from England entering Northern Ireland – a problem which the British tabloids have irreverently dubbed the “sausage wars.”
“The Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions under the protocol that protect the objectives of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday) and minimize the impact on the daily lives of people. residents of northern Ireland, “a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday.
He added that leaders “agreed on the need for continued and meaningful engagement to resolve outstanding issues” and that the issue had also been raised during meetings Johnson had held with Macron and Merkel.
Biden met French Macron later Saturday. He said on Twitter that the pair were “up for the toughest challenges.”
The issue appears unlikely to be resolved before the conclusion of the G-7 seaside summit on Sunday and shows Brexit remains an underlying rift between European allies, even as Biden hopes to strengthen cooperation with China .
Biden has made it a priority to use his first trip abroad as president to show the capacity of democratic institutions to respond to common challenges and has warned of the global rise of authoritarianism.
The Associated Press contributed.