U.K. Looking at Taking G-7 Trade Ministers to Northern Ireland
Office buildings on the Dublin skyline from the Port of Dublin in Ireland. (Photographer: Patrick Bolger/Bloomberg)

U.K. Looking at Taking G-7 Trade Ministers to Northern Ireland

The U.K. has floated plans to hold a meeting of Group of Seven trade ministers in Northern Ireland in May, ruffling feathers among some European diplomats, according to a person familiar with the British plans.

The idea of taking G-7 trade talks to Northern Ireland has raised eyebrows, the official said, because the U.K. is embroiled in a dispute with the European Union over whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson will honor his commitment under the Brexit agreement to establish checks for goods moving between the province and the rest of the U.K.

While it’s not clear whether the suggested location was a deliberate provocation, the U.K. has inflamed tensions with the EU by saying it will unilaterally change rules on trade across the Irish Sea that were part of the post-Brexit accord. Britain has said it will waive customs paperwork on food entering Northern Ireland until October, ignoring the April deadline agreed with the EU. The EU has said the move would be a breach of international law and that it will take legal action.

A British government spokesperson said the U.K. has not confirmed the final details or locations of any G-7 ministerial meetings and emphasized that any physical meetings will follow strict Covid safety measures.

Since Britain’s departure from the EU there has been a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, creating a new administrative burden for businesses. The requirement for export documents on food entering from other parts of the U.K. was designed to ensure that goods crossing into the EU respect the bloc’s rules while allowing the rest of the U.K. to maintain absolute sovereignty over its standards and procedures. The EU had insisted throughout the Brexit talks there could be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

Earlier this week, the EU and the U.K. also traded blows over incorrect claims that Britain was blocking vaccine exports. As of Tuesday, 9.1 million doses had been shipped from the EU to the U.K. since February. Britain has not disclosed how many shots it has exported.

Under proposals circulated to other G-7 members, the trade ministers’ meeting would take place on May 26 and 27 but the plans, including the dates and location, are yet to be finalized and could change due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gathering ministers, senior officials and diplomats from the world’s biggest economies would highlight the speed of the U.K.’s vaccine program compared with the EU’s and the likely pace of economic recovery as it becomes safe to reopen.

The same plans suggest Britain is weighing the possibility of holding other ministerial meetings in person in May and early June. The U.K. is set to host the G-7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall on from June 11 to June 13.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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