G7 summit: Northern Ireland row leaves troubling and lingering impression as Cornwall gathering draws to a close

This was meant to be a new improved G7. United and reinvigorated ready to take on the great challenges of our time.

There won’t be the sulks and bust ups of the Trump era. But on the eve of the last day, we aren’t where its British hosts, not to mention the Americans, really wanted to be.

There is certainly a renewed sense of purpose and determination to work together as allies, a reaffirmation of the principles of the G7 alliance.

But Brexit and, more specifically, the Northern Ireland Protocol are spoiling that impression.

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‘We will not hesitate to invoke Article 16’

The rift over the Northern Ireland Protocol has not narrowed. On the British side the rhetoric is sharpening.

Be pragmatic not “bloody minded”, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned the Europeans.

For their part, the Europeans are adamant; the UK signed up for the protocol and have to stick to their word.

There is nothing to negotiate, French President Emmanuel Macron said before he came to Cornwall. And he reiterated similar sentiments when he met Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, we are told.

The British say they are still holding out for a pragmatic compromise. But it’s hard to compromise when the other side says there is nothing left to negotiate.

The UK government is clearly frustrated the issue is clouding the summit.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News the G7 “isn’t a branchline of the Brexit negotiations, it is a really key international summit”.

Mr Johnson says the UK will “do whatever it takes” to resolve the impasse. But beyond that, if he has ideas, he is not willing to share them it seems.

Exemptions to the protocol on various goods expire at the end of the month. The UK plans on extending that period unilaterally. That will only escalate the stand-off.

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What is the G7?

The Europeans could retaliate and impose tariffs on UK exports. A trade war is possible.

And while the issue remains unsettled, it is ripe for exploitation by sectarian forces in Northern Ireland.

It is a worrying outlook. The issue is unlikely to upend progress towards the key achievements of this summit; action on COVID, climate change and China.

Too much work has been put in ahead of the meeting and during it to scupper its outcome. This is a different G7 with a very different American president leading the free world once again.

But maintaining the status quo in Northern Ireland is of huge importance to everyone here.

For the UK still to be at loggerheads with allies over such an important issue will leave a troubling and lingering impression as this summit draws to a close.

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