The weather in the British Isles is unpredictable at all times of year and nowhere more so than by the seaside, where there is always the potential for a glorious beach trip to turn into a miserable dash to the car in an attempt to escape pelting rain. However the Prime Minister seems to have got lucky, with the weather for the weekend set to be sunny and warm. Indeed, Johnson was spotted taking an early morning swim at the Carbis Bay G7 resort yesterday morning.
The bracing sea dip was probably a good chance for the PM to ensure he has his wits about him, as this G7 is set to be far more consequential than many others. For starters, it’s the first time these world leaders will have seen each other since the pandemic. For one such leader, that is particularly significant. This G7 marks Joe Biden’s first trip overseas as President of the United States and the first major reset of American diplomacy following the Trump years. Prior to the summit, there were a fair amount of nerves and media speculation around the Prime Minister’s first in-person encounter with the President. But yesterday’s initial meeting seems to have gone well, with both leaders speaking highly of each other and Johnson calling the talks “terrific.” While this may have caused the Prime Minister to breathe a sigh of relief last night, there’s still the potential for things to go sour with the chief sticking point being Northern Ireland. European leaders have already promised they’ll bring up the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol this weekend, so we’ll see if Joe ‘I’m Irish’ Biden is still feeling as warm about the UK when he departs from our sunny shores.
Driving the agenda for the summit will be the issue of global vaccine distribution. The PM announced today that the UK will donate 100 million coronavirus doses to poorer countries in the next year, as part of a plan set to be unveiled by G7 leaders this weekend that will see 1 billion jabs provided to the world (Biden has committed to donating 500 million). Expect much discussion and potential critique at the speed of the global vaccine rollout, with the current projections showing that all promised doses won’t arrive until the end of 2022. The issue could also potentially be a sticky one for Johnson due to the heavy criticism he has recently faced from his own party (including former Prime Minister Theresa May) on cutting Britain’s foreign aid budget.
There will also be a heavy focus on sustainability at the summit and the Prime Minister will be looking to advance the UK’s sustainability goals ahead of the COP26 summit due to take place in Glasgow this November. Admittedly he hasn’t got off to the best of starts, with widespread criticism from social media and Labour politicians of his decision to fly from Stansted to Cornwall instead of taking a low carbon train. Will the PM be able to meaningfully set the stage for the upcoming climate summit, or will he walk away having made little impact on this increasingly important area of transnational policy?
And even if the summit does go off without a hitch, there is local discontent to manage with Cornwall residents frustrated by the disruptions caused by the summit and overall concerns about the financial and environmental cost of preparations, potentially leading to demonstrations and disruptions. It’s fair to say that the Prime Minister may need a few more morning swims to steel himself for the days ahead.