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G7 shows why a strong relationship with the EU remains essential for Global Britain

Article by Denisa Delic

June 23, 2021

G7 shows why a strong relationship with the EU remains essential for Global Britain

The G7 was the first opportunity for Prime Minister (PM) Johnson and his Government to launch their ‘Global Britain’ vision, demonstrate leadership on key global challenges and spur efforts to rebuild the alliance of liberal allies.


But despite the ambition to remain forward looking, the G7 headlines that dominated were about Brexit, the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol and the deterioration of relations between the UK and the EU.


There were a series of tense meetings between the PM and European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany Chancellor, Angela Merkel and the French President, Emmanuel Macron during the three day summit. It was a key feature in most of the conversations on the margins of the main meetings despite not being officially on the G7 agenda, and it resulted in a number of fiery interventions.[1] Boris Johnson threatened to invoke article 16 and suspend the NI Protocol unilaterally. The Prime Minister also gave interviews accusing the EU of constructing “all kinds of impediments” instead of applying the protocol “sensibly.”[2]


The desire to ratchet up rhetoric on the NI Protocol, and get involved in public spats with key European leaders ahead of Britain hosting its first global summit may work for a domestic audience but undermines the UK’s ‘Global Britain’ image and its ambitions in three critical ways.


Firstly, by undermining the Withdrawal Agreement and failing to abide by the NI Protocol, it is chipping away at Britain’s reputation of being a reliable partner that respects the agreements it signs. Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister, has explicitly warned that “unilateral action undermines the trust necessary to reach agreement.”[3] These diplomatic fights undermine British credibility and authority on the world stage at a time when it wants to build its ‘Global Britain’ capital and relationships. It also overshadowed the UK’s G7 achievements, including the Atlantic Charter, a document signed by Boris Johnson and President Biden. As Nigel Sheinwald, a former UK Ambassador to Washington and the EU, said “there is no point in writing the Atlantic charter which depends on mutual trust, mutual confidence and the rules of law when you are operating as chancers.”[4] It also risks setting a precedent for other states to seize upon for their own political gains.


Secondly, ongoing fighting with its European neighbours risks creating unnecessary tensions with its allies. And as the former UK Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, recently said “Britain on its own ain’t gonna get far” without its partners.[5] Last week, it was reported that senior US embassy officials in London, alongside the US National Security Adviser, formally warned David Frost, the UK’s Brexit Minister, that he will inflame tensions in Northern Ireland if the UK does not compromise over border checks.[6] Such a sharp diplomatic reprimand is rare between allies, but it is a sign of how serious one of Britain’s most important allies is taking this issue and the extent that it is willing to push the UK Government on it.


It has also spurred others to raise the issue directly with the PM at the G7. Ralph Goodale, Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, offered Canada’s help to find a solution, and has pointed out explicitly that whilst they do not underestimate the difficultly of finding a resolution, they want to signal they are aware of the challenge.[7]


And it is already affecting the UK’s preferred approach to cooperate with EU capitals bilaterally, outside of an institutional relationship with Brussels. President Macron offered Johnson the chance to reset relations between France and the UK but on the condition that the UK “honour their word to the Europeans and the framework defined by the Brexit agreements.”[8] A similar message was also delivered by German Chancellor Merkel. I have argued previously that the need to have a strong foreign policy relationship with the EU will be vital if the UK wishes to continue strong bilateral cooperation with EU capitals, as well as in minilateral forums like the E3.[9]


Finally, the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in March this year, attempts to define a new national strategy.[10] It outlines a number of ambitious goals to tackle global challenges and define its new future role outside of the EU. The Integrated Review recognises that strong European security is a precondition to delivering a successful ‘Global Britain’. And despite leaving a Brussels shaped hole in the framework, it does specify that Britain will work closely with France and Germany on these issues.


But as former National Security Adviser and UK Ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, argues “in reality it will be impossible to keep that cooperation insulated from a rancorous economic relationship with the EU.”[11] This, as we saw at the G7, has the potential to spill into other global summits and bilateral relationships. And more crucially for Johnson, it has the potential to weaken the UK’s influence and standing in the world which will undermine its wider global ambitions. That’s why establishing a collaborative relationship with the EU will be crucial not only for ensuring that issues like the NI Protocol are worked through properly, but also because Britain’s broader influence and strategic interests depend on it.


The G7 was the first test of Global Britain, but it won’t be its last. The Government will be hosting a global education summit in July with the Government of Kenya and COP26, the UN climate change conference, in November this year.[12] If the PM wants Global Britain to “build back better” to deliver a “strong, safe and more prosperous” world, then it needs to start by mending its relationship with the EU, and focus on building alliances that will be crucial for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.[13]


Image under (CC).


[1] Mujtaba Rahman, Twitter Post, Twitter, June 2021,

[2] Heather Stewart & Toby Helm, Brexit bust-up torpedoes Johnson’s bid to showcase ‘global Britain’ at G7, The Guardian, June 2021,

[3] Pat Leahy, Denis Staunton and Freya McClements, Government brans UK move to delay checks goods entering North from Britain ‘deeply unhelpful’, The Irish Times, March 2021,

[4] Heather Stewart & Toby Helm, Brexit bust-up torpedoes Johnson’s bid to showcase ‘global Britain’ at G7, The Guardian, June 2021,

[5] Institute for Government, What does Global Britain mean? A conversation with Peter Ricketts and Peter Westmacott, June 2021,

[6] Patrick Wintour, Biden arrives with demand that UK settle Brexit row over Northern Ireland, The Guardian, June 2021,

[7] Karl Mathiesen, Anna Isaac and Esther Webber, Trudeau raises Northern Ireland Brexit row in G7 meeting with Johnson, Politico, June 2021,

[8] Michel Rose, EXCLUSIVE Macron offers UK’s Johnson ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word, Reuters, June 2021,

[9] Denisa Delic, Mind the gap: The Brussels shaped hole in the Integrated Review, ELN, March 2021,

[10] HM Government, Global Britain in a competitive age, The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021,

[11] Peter Ricketts, What role can Britain play in the world? I know where I’d look for inspiration, Prospect, May 2021,

[12] GPE Press releases, UK and Kenya to host major education summit in 2021, October 2020,;, COP26,

[13] HM Government, Global Britain in a competitive age, The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021,

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