The G7 couldn’t come at a more apposite time for Boris Johnson, with foreign affairs currently in sharp focus for the UK government. The future of aid, continuing negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the spectre of a NATO summit, the G20 and the COP26 climate conference over the next few months is giving global leaders plenty to chew over alongside the Cornish turbot and new potatoes with wild garlic pesto they’ll dine on tonight.
The G7 is also Boris’s first proper opportunity to promote his Global Britain agenda, too, as the world begins to emerge from Covid. He’ll attempt to use the first G7 in two years to reset the UK’s relations with its largest trading partners and, by extension, the world.
President Biden, already on British soil, has had constructive discussions with Boris Johnson about the US government’s continuing interest in the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which it believes is threatened by any chance to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Biden will also meet the Queen at Windsor on Sunday, the 14th President of her long reign and the 13th to meet her — only Lyndon Johnson didn’t.
It’s clear UK-US relations are the priority for Boris, as he continues to seek a trade deal with the USA and a continuation of what he now calls the ‘indestructible relationship’ rather than the special relationship. The new ‘Atlantic Charter’, a UK-US travel and technology agreement, began a series of G7 announcements this week, and that is no accident (and nor are helpful comparisons to Churchill, Boris Johnson’s hero).
In contrast, UK-EU relations remain prickly, and will colour the G7 negotiations which, of course, includes three key EU nations: France, Germany and Italy. Macron’s pronouncement yesterday that the Brexit Prococol shouldn’t be renegotiatied, and that he might veto it, will sour relations. There certainly wasn’t much progress in the talks between Lord (David) Frost, the Cabinet Office Minister who’s in charge of the post-Brexit negotiations for Britain, who spent four hours with EU vice president Maroš Šefčovič on Wednesday morning. Unresolved issues comprise a long list, which includes everything from pet travel to sausages.
As well as the G7 Prime Ministers and Presidents, Australian, Indian, South African and South Korean leaders will attend, with almost two thirds of citizens of democracies worldwide represented at the table, discussing global health, climate change and how to make the world fairer through economic growth. With trade a huge priority for the UK, this ecumenism is no accident either.
Covid will dominate, as will vaccine supply, with Boris Johnson keen to emphasise his administration’s support for the COVAX international scheme and a further acceleration of global vaccine deployment and development. The Conservative concept of ‘building back better’ will be applied to the pandemic, with solutions sought as how to avoid such a pandemic in future, through international cooperation.
Tackling climate change will also be at the heart of discussions, with Cornwall showcased as a place at the forefront of green innovation.
And Boris Johnson’s focus on foreign affairs will continue even as the G7 closes. His next stop is Brussels for the NATO summit, where Afghanistan, Russia and the future of the NATO alliance itself will be debated.
Peter Cardwell, Senior Counsel, Sovereign Strategy