British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke sharply on Saturday after discussing the rules for a Brexit deal in Northern Ireland with European Union leaders, in a blow to the image of unity that G7 leaders tried to project at their summit this week.
“I’ve spoken to some of our friends here today, who seem to misunderstand the fact that the UK is one country, one territory. I just need to get that across,” Johnson was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
Johnson, who is hosting this year’s G7 summit in England, said EU countries needed to “understand that we are going to do whatever it takes” to protect Britain’s interests in the ongoing trade dispute he dubbed the “sausage wars”.
He threatened to use Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a move that would unilaterally violate Britain’s Brexit agreement.
The dispute between London and the European Union relates to the trade arrangements for Northern Ireland after Britain’s exit from the European Union, and these arrangements provide for the imposition of customs controls on goods arriving in the province from the British mainland.
In London’s view, these arrangements threaten the supply of certain goods to the people of Northern Ireland and the territorial integrity and integrity of the United Kingdom.
Although Johnson has made similar threats before, his tone and the timing of his remarks came as a surprise to observers.
“The British prime minister is trying to use the G7 summit as an opportunity to de-escalate global tensions, and the event is supposed to be an opportunity for powerful nations to show mutual respect and signal cooperation,” says the Washington Post.
“As the summit host, Johnson is expected to maintain good decency and refrain from a war of words with other leaders,” she added.
Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said Johnson’s comments showed that “all his options are on the table. While EU leaders hoped that the G7 bilateral meetings would help reduce tension, Johnson’s speech would be interpreted as escalation and stubbornness.”
And in early May, tensions between the European Union and Britain increased, when the British government unilaterally decided to extend the periods for allowing items such as ground meat, poultry or eggs to travel to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK without any health checks.
Previous trade arrangements between Brussels and London had stipulated that such goods had to be checked, from 1 July, to prevent the emergence of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland, which is still part of the United Kingdom, and its European Union neighbor the Republic of Ireland.
But the British government wanted to delay it “at least until 2023”.
And last Wednesday, London witnessed a meeting between David Frost, the former British negotiator for exit from the European Union, and Maros Zivkovic, Vice President of the European Commission for Relations between Institutions, and they did not reach an agreement.
An EU official said it might be possible to put in place an arrangement whereby Britain would “temporarily” comply with EU health rules.
But British officials have rejected this possibility, as it requires sticking to some EU regulations after Brexit.
European countries fear unilateral British moves such as invoking Article 16 to renegotiate Brexit.
She complains that Britain is slowing down when it comes to other commitments made during its exit negotiations. If British officials conduct customs and health checks in the Irish Sea, Europeans are entitled under the treaty to supervise those checks. But they are unable to reach British customs.