G7 summit focus on pandemic recovery overshadowed by Europe-UK tension

British leader distracted by clash with Europeans as he warns on suspension of Brexit deal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the G7 summit in Cornwall, south-west England, with a message that the world must avoid the errors of previous recoveries in the pandemic as the US set out its stall for building back through global infrastructure.

The British host of the gathering had a tough Saturday morning as meetings got under way in earnest. He was pressed by European leaders to live up to the terms of the Brexit deal that London now says cannot be implemented for Northern Ireland trade.

Mr Johnson told his European guests he may soon be forced to suspend a key part of the Brexit deal agreed to only last year.

He said EU leaders needed to "get it into their heads" that the protocol was interfering with  UK markets. "I think that to be fair there's quite a lot of misunderstanding around the EU about the situation in Northern Ireland, the balance of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace process," he said. "I was just, in a gentle way, getting across what that means and I think that we'll have some pragmatic solutions."

The leaders of the G7 – the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan – view the gathering at Carbis Bay as a chance to show the world that the richest democracies can offer help to a recovering global economy.

At the opening session, the members – who were joined by South Korean, Indian, Australian and South African leaders – heard from the chairman of the Economic Resilience Panel Mark Sedwill before the second session on foreign policy.

The meetings are the first stops for US President Joe Biden on the first overseas trip of his presidency.

Also in his schedule are a Nato summit, an EU meeting and a face-to-face encounter with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Switzerland before he returns to the US.

Washington is determined to ensure there is a positive way forward for middle-income countries seeking to restore economic growth after the hit taken during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We'll be announcing 'build back better for the world', an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners," a US official said.

Mr Biden suggested to G7 summit leaders that democratic countries should develop their own version of China's infrastructure-focused Belt and Road initiative as a platform for global recovery.

The G7 show of unity was tested on Saturday by the standoff between the UK and the European countries over the post-Brexit deal.

French president Emmanuel Macron offered Mr Johnson a reset in the relationship on Saturday morning, following months of confrontation, particularly over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Macron said the two countries shared a vision for international and transatlantic relations, including on arms control, but the need to resolve Brexit tension was pressing.

He  told Mr Johnson that Britain needed to uphold the Brexit deal it signed, despite a stalemate over new trade rules in Northern Ireland.

Britain should "keep its word" to Europe, Mr Macron said.

French officials said afterwards that the president, strongly underlined that "this re-engagement requires the British to honour the promises made to Europeans and to respect the Brexit agreement".

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets France's President Emmanuel Macron before a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Carbis bay, Cornwall on June 12, 2021. / AFP / POOL / Stefan Rousseau

The UK leader also discussed the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, on Saturday.

British officials said both sides had agreed on the need for continued meaningful engagement to resolve the outstanding issues.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said it was important to resolve these problems.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attacked the EU for its "bloody-minded" approach to the dispute over trade in Northern Ireland.

“They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody minded and purist about it, in which case I am afraid we will not allow the integrity of the UK to be threatened,” he said.

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, added another plank to the pandemic recovery by securing backing for a 100-day action plan for how countries tackle health threats, including new infectious diseases affecting humans.

"Under this agreement, the world's leading democracies will commit to preventing a global pandemic from ever happening again, ensuring the devastation caused by Covid-19 is never repeated."

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