Much is at stake for Boris Johnson at the G7 summit. He has to warm up relations with the US – and forget about his flirtation with Donald Trump.
For Boris Johnson, the G7 summit is a home game in several ways. His media presence sometimes disguises the fact that he has only been in the office of prime minister for just under two years. Johnson still has to prove himself in office, nationally and internationally. Now he is fortunate enough to be in the limelight of the major political stages several times this year: Great Britain is not only hosting the G7 summit in St Ives, but also the World Climate Conference in Glasgow in November. And Johnson loves one thing above all: the big political stages.
In addition to a personal test for the prime minister, the G7 summit is also important for Great Britain. After Brexit, the kingdom is looking for a new role in the world. The three-day G7 meeting from June 11th to 13th will focus on the biggest international problems at the moment: the climate crisis and the economic consequences of the corona pandemic.
Participants of the G7 summit: Chancellor Angela Merkel (Germany), President Joe Biden (USA), Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Great Britain), Prime Justin Trudeau (Canada), President Emmanuel Macron (France), Prime Minister Mario Draghi (Italy), Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (Japan). The heads of government of South Africa, Australia, India and South Korea have also received an invitation.
Johnson has a good chance of achieving political success in the course of the British G7 presidency. It benefits from the fact that among the seven industrialized countries the striving for unity has seldom been so great. In the fight against the global crises and in the power struggle with China and Russia, the G7 are moving together.
Biden: “An emotional clone of Trump”
The architect of this new unity is US President Joe Biden. The bilateral meeting between Biden and Johnson is of great importance for both countries. It is about restarting the traditionally close relationship between the US and Great Britain.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden disembark from Air Force One in eastern England. (Source: AP / dpa)
However, the relationship between Biden and Johnson is complicated. The prime minister repeatedly showed sympathy for Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who in turn referred to the prime minister as “British Trump”. Unforgettable is Trump’s visit to Great Britain almost three years ago when he snubbed the then Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview – and said of her adversary Johnson: “I think he would be a great Prime Minister.” Biden, in turn, once referred to Johnson as “some kind of physical and emotional clone” of Trump.
Another point of contention was always Brexit: Biden, who has Irish roots, had always reprimanded Johnson’s Brexit course, including the delicate Northern Ireland question. And Biden is currently showing little interest in a free trade agreement that Johnson is hoping for after Brexit. Trump – who once referred to himself as “Mr. Brexit” – had promised the British a “phenomenal free trade agreement” after leaving the EU.
Johnson’s charm offensive works
But Johnson understands the importance of British relations with the United States. Therefore, after Biden’s election as US president, the prime minister went on a cuddle course, he was the first head of government from Europe to congratulate Biden. Johnson is looking for a new love, trying to make the past with Trump – whose protectionist and populist political style unites the two – forget. He’s struggling with this past.
Carbis Bay: Boris Johnson and Joe Biden during a joint meeting ahead of the G7 summit. (Source: dpa)
Johnson’s luck is that Biden doesn’t seem resentful. The White House emphasized before the trip that Biden and Johnson can get along with each other. Since Biden has been in office, they have “made a few phone calls,” said his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan. The discussions were warm and constructive. The British prime minister’s charm offensive seems to be working.
Biden should also have noticed how clearly Boris Johnson criticized Donald Trump after storming the Capitol on January 6th. “I condemn it wholeheartedly for inciting people to behave as disgraceful as the Capitol,” Johnson said at the time. The fact that Congress confirmed Biden’s victory in the “free and fair” presidential election on November 3 after the storming of the Capitol was a “victory for democracy”.
In view of the corona and climate crisis, Biden sees Johnson increasingly as an important ally. The British side announced on Thursday night: “The new Atlantic Charter will outline eight areas in which the Prime Minister and President Biden decide to work together for the good of humanity.” It’s about the defense of democracy, collective security, the global trading system and reconstruction after the corona crisis.
Great expectations for Great Britain
There is unity in the fight against the pandemic and global warming, which is why the meeting between Johnson and Biden is largely harmonious. And Great Britain is thus securing the backing of the USA in its goal of taking on a pioneering role in the world again.
The G7 summit 2019: Back then with Donald Trump. (Source: AP / dpa)
A central test for this will be the G7 summit, in Great Britain the expectations of the home game are high. The following topics will be discussed:
- Corona pandemic: It will not only be about post-pandemic economic recovery, but global vaccine distribution as well. The US has already rushed ahead and announced that it will be giving 500 million cans to other countries. This also increases the pressure on the remaining G7 countries. Biden apparently expects more commitment from the Europeans. The USA and Great Britain have so far kept a low profile when it comes to distributing vaccines in order to supply their own population as quickly as possible.
- Climate crisis: In Great Britain, the G7 countries are discussing further measures against global warming with a view to the climate summit in November. The outcome is unclear. Environmental groups are hoping for an exit date for burning coal and other fossil fuels.
- Print on China: In any case, the G7 seem to be very close to one another when it comes to the two major issues. Rather, it is a sign of unity on these issues and a message to China. Because by autumn at the latest, at the G20 summit in Italy, compromises will have to be made with Beijing, which is why the US government is interested in harmony in the G7 format.
- Minimum taxation for companies: One of the first successes of the G7 finance ministers is the agreement on a global tax for digital services and a minimum tax rate of 15 percent for large global corporations. But this measure will only develop its full potential if the G20 countries go along with it.
- Development policy: Johnson inherited the long-term theme of development from his predecessors in the G7 presidency. Therefore, the prime minister wants to work for a stronger promotion of school education for girls in poorer countries of the global south. However, his government has only limited credibility because the kingdom recently cut its spending on development aid.
Dispute between Great Britain and the EU
While the USA and Great Britain are currently harmonizing, the relationship between the British and the EU remains tense. The EU wants to use the G7 summit to persuade Johnson to give in in the dispute over goods controls in Northern Ireland. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would discuss the issue at a meeting with Johnson and EU Council President Charles Michel on the sidelines of the summit. She called on Johnson again to implement the agreements that had been made. Otherwise the EU could take retaliatory measures.
Ursula von der Leyen (M), President of the European Commission, and Charles Michel (2nd from right), President of the European Council: The EU would like to put pressure on Great Britain on the Northern Ireland question at the G7 summit. (Source: dpa)
The so-called Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Treaty is intended to ensure that no customs controls take place between the British province and the EU member Ireland. These could lead to a resurgence of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Merkel’s departure from G7 format
Biden also wants to prevent that, the US president will probably have to settle some dispute on his trip to Europe. Not until the G7 summit in Great Britain, on Tuesday in Brussels at a meeting with EU leaders and on Wednesday at the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The search for compromises will not be easy, the European trip could be viewed as a failure, especially if the meeting with Putin does not bring any concrete improvements in US relations with Russia.
Johnson has it much easier at the G7 summit: He wants to warm up the special relationship with the USA and present Great Britain as an internationally important player. He promised his people that after Brexit – and he now wants to keep this promise.
In addition to these two main actors, it is almost forgotten that this is a special G7 summit for Germany as well. Because for Angela Merkel it will be the last meeting in this format as Federal Chancellor, in 2022 Armin Laschet (CDU) or Annalena Baerbock (Greens) will take their place in this group. This is still unimaginable, especially for the international audience.