British officials are increasingly concerned the EU will manoeuvre president Joe Biden against the UK at the G7 summit in Cornwall. The US president is reported to want to secure a breakthrough as Britain and the EU continue to be miles apart on what should be done with the hated Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Foxhole reported earlier this week fears Biden will try to bully Boris Johnson into making the customs border mechanism work when the two peel off from the summit for a one-on-one, although Biden is also believed to be frustrated with the EU for being too “bureaucratic”, and will tell them as such.
However, concerns are rising among UK officials that the US president will be a soft touch with the EU (he travels to Brussels straight after the summit) and take a harder line against Boris. The FT reports British diplomats believe the EU is trying to “exploit” Biden, whose secretary of state, Anthony Blinken is a raving Francophile and once described Brexit as a “total mess”.
Meanwhile, the Mirror quotes an EU source who views Biden as the bloc’s “best tool in the armoury”.
“There isn’t really any other option. We’ve tried the legal route. We’ll try US pressure. But if those don’t work then tariffs may be all we have left,” said an EU diplomat.
The government in Dublin has received greater visibility in recent days as the situation escalates. Biden’s distant Irish identity and Catholic faith is welded to his carefully curated blue collar political brand. The Irish connection explains why British diplomats worry he will give the EU the rub of the green.
For their part, the Irish have already tried to appeal to Biden’s vanity. On St Patrick’s day, Taoiseach, Micheál Martin described the president as “one of the nation’s most Irish of presidents”.
On Tuesday, Martin called on both sides to “depoliticise” the NI Protocol, which the EU regards as a purely legal issue.
“It’s important that we do resolve these issues and that trust is built up between the European Union and the United Kingdom,” Martin added, “otherwise we will have continuing issues and problems.”
But Brussels is not just trying to butter up Biden, it also wants to wreck Britain’s reputation. In recent weeks, the papers have increasingly mentioned how much Eurocrats despise Britain’s negotiator to the EU, David Frost, which the Cabinet Office minister freely admits.
The G7 summit will also see Lord Frost meet his opposite number, Maros Sefcovic who is said to be “losing patience” with Britain. Sefcovic has hinted at retaliatory tariffs if the UK goes ahead with extending grace periods on the Protocol – a ban on chilled meat and some medicines will come into effect on 30 June if the British government does not act.
Meanwhile, Frost is preoccupied with the “damaging impact the Protocol is having on the ground in Northern Ireland,” language you do not hear from the EU. In a shot at Sefcovic, he described “further threats of legal action and trade retaliation” as unhelpful.
But with Frost running Britain’s negotiation – it was recently revealed EU officials wish predecessor Michael Gove was still in post – Brussels is panicking the UK will go “full throttle” over Northern Ireland, ignore their threats and do what it takes to open up trade with the province inside its own borders. However, from all accounts, the EU does not expect the Protocol to be thrown out entirely.
Studying the EU’s frantic communications and its repeatedly expressed hatred of Frost, British officials worry “they are playing the man not the ball but it won’t work,” as one senior British official told the FT. “David is actually quite moderate when you compare him to the PM. Boris takes a really hard line on all of this.”
If that’s the case, we strongly suggest Boris get more involved.