What to expect from Boris Johnson's debut on the world stage as PM at the G7
There will be dozens of potential pitfalls for the new prime minister in Biarritz, writes Ashley Cowburn
This weekend the popular French surfing city of Biarritz will be on lockdown as leaders of the world’s most advanced economies fly in to bang heads over the most pressing political issues of the present day.
The Group of Seven – or G7 – made up of Canada, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Italy and the United States, will navigate topics such as climate change, the fractious Iranian nuclear deal, the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and, of course, Brexit.
Despite it being the last summit for the outgoing Italian leader Giuseppe Conte, it will be Boris Johnson’s debut on the world stage as the UK’s prime minister. Both will, at least, be able to share niceties on their respective domestic political crises.
Johnson is no stranger to such diplomatic events – given his previous role as the foreign secretary under Theresa May’s premiership – but he will be under immense pressure to convince the world’s leaders of his “Global Britain” brand.
His first outings, to Berlin and Paris, went relatively smoothly, and no doubt Downing Street will be hoping for a repeat of these gaffe-free visits from a politician who possesses an unusual propensity for gaffes.
In regards to Germany, France, Italy and the European Council president Donald Tusk, who will also be present, Johnson will seek to reiterate his “do or die” commitment to finalise the UK’s divorce with the EU by 31 October.
He could also use the opportunity to again demand the reopening of the withdrawal agreement and the abolition of the Irish backstop. The EU leaders will once again use the opportunity to reject these demands. In short: don’t expect any major breakthrough on Brexit at the G7.
For those not in the EU – Canada, Japan and the US – his aides will focus on securing comforting words on post-Brexit trade deals.
There have been suggestions Donald Trump is hoping to meet with Johnson ahead of any other leader in Biarritz. Usually, this would be considered a huge diplomatic snub for the French president Emmanuel Macron, who of course is hosting this year’s G7.
But this is business as usual for the US president, who is intending to “send a signal” to the EU about his desire to strike a deal with the UK after Brexit.
But at what cost? This transactional president never gives something for nothing. Wanting to please the US leader, Johnson may find himself facing demands to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal – something Trump referred to once as a “horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made”.
He could also be urged to fall in line with the US in its hardline stance against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The UK is yet to officially announce its decision on allowing the company access to its 5G mobile network infrastructure.
The G7 will undoubtedly be a major event for the new prime minister on the world stage, and one with dozens of hurdles. But given the unpredictable outcome of the domestic crisis over Brexit, it could also be Johnson’s first and last G7 as the UK’s prime minister.