Behind the scenes

G7: the jokes, the gaffes and the key takeaways

Brexit spat with Emmanuel Macron dominates headlines on the summit’s final day

After three days of talks, a beach barbecue and a display by the Red Arrows, a sun-soaked G7 summit ended yesterday in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. 

Host Boris Johnson hailed the first in-person G7 gathering in nearly two years as a “huge opportunity” to kick-start the global pandemic recovery – although, as feared, criticisms over the UK’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol cast a shadow over several key meetings for the prime minister.

Here are the highlights.

One billion vaccinations pledged – but is it enough?

The G7 nations issued a final communique as the summit came to an end on Sunday, with leaders vowing to “end the pandemic and prepare for the future”.

They have committed to providing developing countries with one billion vaccines – or, on closer inspection, 870 million doses – over the next year, in the hope of tackling the spread of the disease and the emergence of new variants. 

But as Politico notes, the G7’s promise – well short of the number of vaccinations needed in the developing world – displays a “lack of ambition”, despite Johnson heading into the summit calling for “concrete commitments” from world leaders to vaccinate the “the entire world” by the end of 2022, the Independent adds.

The communique condemned Russia for “its destabilising behaviour and malign activities” calling on the country to prevent ransomware attacks originating from its soil, Reuters reports. But when it came to China the G7 struggled to come up with a united message, reflecting deeper behind-the-scenes splits on how to deal with the superpower. 

The summit fell “shortest” on the issue of providing climate change finance, says Bloomberg. World leaders renewed a pledge to provide $100bn a year to help developing nations tackle the climate crisis, but there was little detail of how much new funding each G7 country will contribute. 

The group also failed to agree on a timeline for ending the use of coal for electrical power - leaving the language of the communique weaker than commitments made by G7 environment ministers in May, notes Politico.  

Foreign aid cuts proved to be less of a sticking point than some rebellious Conservative MPs might have hoped – the topic was not mentioned in any of his meetings, Johnson told The Guardian. 

‘A colossal failure’?

Oxfam slammed the talks as a “colossal failure”, taking the G7 to task over its limited vaccination plans and lack of action over the “climate catastrophe”. 

“A billion doses would have been a drop in the bucket, but they didn’t even manage that,” said Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of inequality policy. “Sharing vaccines will only get us so far – we need all G7 nations to follow the lead of the U.S., France and over 100 other nations in backing a waiver on intellectual property. By holding vaccine recipes hostage, the virus will continue raging out of control in developing countries and put millions of lives at risk.”  

Former prime minister Gordon Brown was also a critical voice, calling the summit an “unforgivable moral failure” that had broken its promise to “vaccinate the world”, The Times reports. 

The Financial Times saw the weekend as a win for American leadership on the world stage, writing “the world’s leading western democracies are back in business” under Joe Biden’s presidency.

On Johnson’s performance, however, the reviews were less glowing. The Telegraph accused the prime minister of using the summit to throw out “feel-good phrases devoid of genuine substance”, concluding that “this was not the best week for this Government”.

Sky News’s political editor, Beth Rigby, wrote that Johnson had “scored an own goal” despite having home advantage. The diplomatic row between France and the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol, which was covered heavily in the UK press on the last day of the summit, could have been “entirely avoided” she writes. 

Brexit sausage spat 

Indeed, Johnson’s row with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron dominated the headlines yesterday, although Johnson sought to downplay the Brexit spat this morning, describing it as having “occupied a vestigial, vanishingly small proportion of our deliberations”, the Daily Mirror reports.

The row erupted during bilateral talks with France when Johnson attempted to explain his difficulties with the Northern Ireland protocol by asking Macron what he would do if sausages from Toulouse could not be moved to Paris. 

The French president was said to have argued that the analogy did not work “because Toulouse and Paris are in the same country”, thereby suggesting Northern Ireland is not part of the UK. 

After much ire from the British side, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling the suggestion “offensive”, Macron used a news conference to call for “calm”, stating that France would never question the “integrity of British territory”. 

Johnson seemed keen to get in one last dig at the French president before the close of play at this year’s summit. According to The Sun, Johnson told the French president that a bottle of wine he had bought as a gift for President Biden “was as old as when the French last won a naval battle”. 

The Queen, who hosted world leaders at a reception on Saturday, also provided some light relief to dour-faced leaders as they took a socially distanced group photo with the 95-year-old monarch. 

“Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?” she quipped.

Johnson was quick to dive in with an emphatic “yes”, adding: “We have been enjoying ourselves – in spite of appearances.”

The prime minister was also keen to maintain his fitness regime while hosting the three-day event in Cornwall, suggests the Daily Mail. He was spotted by camera crews running into the sea and showing off his front crawl as he took a dip in Carbis Bay.

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