Last week, the UK hosted the G7 in Cornwall welcoming leaders from some of the world’s major economies and largest democracies. This has given the UK an opportunity to showcase its new global offer and position in the world, post-Brexit.
No one can deny that the UK is an influential player on the world stage; we are a global leader and we are open for global business. We now have an opportunity to be at the heart of responses to the world’s biggest issues – climate change, combating poverty and inequality, global free trade and ensuring Covid-19 vaccines (including Oxford-AstraZeneca) are delivered to the world’s poorer nations. Our strength to do this comes from our independence, our values as a people, the values of this Government, our Union of four nations and, of course, a strong economy.
Sadly, the G7 was partly overshadowed by the EU - UK dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol where we saw the UK coming under increasing pressure to accept EU demands for a strengthened internal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. French and German representatives at the G7 looked like they might follow up on threats of EU sanctions with further submission in face-to-face meetings, with the French President telling our Prime Minister that Northern Ireland is not part of the UK and ‘nothing is negotiable’ regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The US President weighed in, issuing our Prime Minister with a diplomatic rebuke, accusing Government Ministers of ‘inflaming tensions’ on the island of Ireland. Our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have been robust in their responses; we will do what we need to do to protect the UK’s territorial integrity. We cannot have the EU using Northern Ireland to keep us tied to it and destabilise our Union. It is ludicrous that food produced in Hastings and Rye, for example, cannot be sold in Northern Ireland, which is as much part of the UK as Sussex local towns and villages. If implementing the Protocol will hamper businesses and cause unintended hardship for ordinary UK citizens, it needs to be changed. Goodwill and flexibility are key; the EU needs to understand that building barriers and adhering to protectionist bureaucratic dogma does not make it stronger.
Despite EU-related difficulties, we can celebrate concluding the new Atlantic Treaty by the US President and our Prime Minister, pledging the UK and USA to work closer together to tackle the challenges we face and build a fairer global trading system. Global trade is the key to economic development for all nations, particularly the poorer ones. Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut by 50% to under one billion - the increase in developing countries’ participation in trade coinciding with this decline in extreme poverty and the UK is continuing to work hard to deliver free trade agreements with developing countries, which will help them build their businesses and industries and trade their way out of poverty. Help them Build Back Better. We can do this because we are now an independent country, giving us the freedom to make free trade agreements and lead the fight against poverty across the globe.
This week saw a trade deal agreed between the UK and Australia, opening-up opportunities for UK businesses and consumers, as well as giving young people the chance to work and live in Australia more freely. The Australia-UK agreement is also an important step towards the UK joining the wider Asia Pacific free trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which will provide British businesses with huge opportunities, including our farmers, giving them better access to massive consumer markets of the present – and the future.
The G7 summit had an agenda focusing on many difficult issues including climate change, economic recovery from Covid-19 and the sharing of vaccines with poorer nations. Breakthroughs are possible when we seek common aims and whilst it remains to be seen how much impact the G7 leaders’ decisions on climate change, vaccines and economic recovery will have, it was very welcome to see democratic countries working together to achieve common goals.