Thursday 19 September 2019

'He'll go down in history as 'Mr no-deal' unless they get rid of backstop' - Johnson and Tusk clash at G7 summit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives in Biarritz for the G7 summit, France, August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives in Biarritz for the G7 summit, France, August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives in Biarritz, France, for the annual G7 summit Photo: Dylan Martinez/PA Wire
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) sits to lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on the first day of the annual G7 Summit, at Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, France August 24, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

David Hughes, Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin

Boris Johnson and European Council President Donald Tusk have clashed at the start of the G7 summit over who will be to blame if there is a failure to reach a Brexit deal.

Mr Tusk said he hoped the British Prime Minister would not go down in history as "Mr no deal" ahead of their face-to-face talks at the G7 summit in Biarritz on Sunday.

But speaking on the plane to Biarritz, the Prime Minister shot back by suggesting that failure to reach a Brexit agreement would also reflect badly on Mr Tusk.

The Prime Minister said: "I have made it absolutely clear I don't want a no-deal Brexit.

US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at the airport in Biarritz, France, for the first day of the G-7 summit (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at the airport in Biarritz, France, for the first day of the G-7 summit (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

"But I say to our friends in the EU if they don't want a no-deal Brexit then we have got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty.

"If Donald Tusk doesn't want to go down as 'Mr no-deal Brexit' then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him too."

Mr Tusk had used a press conference at the G7 to set out the European Union's position ahead of his talks with Mr Johnson.

He said: "He will be the third British Conservative prime minister with whom I will discuss Brexit.

"The EU was always open to co-operation when David Cameron wanted to avoid Brexit, when Theresa May wanted to avoid a no-deal Brexit and we will also be ready now to hold serious talks with Prime Minister Johnson.

"One thing I will not co-operate on is no deal. I still hope that Prime Minster Johnson will not like to go down in history as 'Mr no deal'.

"We are willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all member states including Ireland, if and when the UK Government is ready to put them on the table."

Meanwhile, efforts to salvage consensus among the G7 nations have frayed before the official start of their summit in France in the face of US president Donald Trump's unpredictable America-first approach.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the three-day meeting in the seaside resort of Biarritz would be "a difficult test of the unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders", and that "this may be the last moment to restore our political community".

Mr Tusk said the last thing the European Union wanted was a trade dispute with the United States and called for "an end to trade wars" - but he promised to retaliate against American products if Mr Trump carries through on a threat to impose tariffs on French wine.

Mr Trump made the threat in response to a proposed French tax on internet companies.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who is hosting the summit beginning later on Saturday, has made clear that he has little expectation that Mr Trump will join any statement on fighting climate change even as the issue shot to the top of the agenda with the widespread fires in the Amazon.

He already rejected Mr Trump's request to let Russia rejoin the group five years after being expelled over its seizure of Crimea.

And Mr Macron is also trying to hold the European line on the Iran nuclear deal, over US objections.

The French and US leaders met on Saturday for lunch.

In a nationally televised speech timed for the moment his US counterpart touched down in Biarritz, Mr Macron repeatedly used the word "disagreements" to describe the expected atmosphere.

Later, as the two faced each other across a dining table, he used the softer word "divergences" regarding climate change.

Mr Macron described Mr Trump as a "very special guest", and Mr Trump fondly recalled the dinner they shared at the Eiffel Tower.

But Mr Macron was firm that leaders owed it to the world to come up with solutions.

"We have disagreements, and at times there are caricatures," he said.

"But I think that the great challenges that we have: Climate, biodiversity, the technological transformation, the fight against inequality, this global insecurity, we will only resolve them by acting together, by reconciling."

Mr Macron has also threatened to block an EU trade deal with several South American states, including Brazil, with Ireland joining in the threat.

But there was disagreement from German chancellor Angela Merkel, with her office saying that blocking the Mercosur deal will not reduce the destruction of rainforest in Brazil, although she backed Mr Macron's proposal to discuss the ongoing wildfires at the summit.

At last year's summit in Charlevoix, Canada, Mr Trump left early and repudiated the meeting's final statement in a tweet from Air Force One. This year, Mr Macron said, there will be no final statement.

Instead, diplomats say Mr Macron could issue his own summary of the discussions.

Lowered expectations are nothing new for the G7, but this year's intent seems to be just to avoid diplomatic catastrophe, salvage whatever is possible, and show voters that their leaders have a role on the world stage.

One force that could push leaders together is their joint vulnerability to an economic slowdown, especially the ones who, like Mr Trump, are facing elections in the next year or two.

Disputes on trade have unsettled the global economy because businesses do not know where tariffs will be imposed or what the trading system will look like in a world that has become dependent on supplies of materials, parts and goods flowing through intricate cross-border supply chains.

Given lowered expectations, the most important summit outcome would be "to do no harm", said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.

He called on world leaders at the summit to "have a discussion without a bust-up - no repeat of Charlevoix, please".

A "dream result" would be the EU, US and Japan agreeing to jointly tackle their trade issues with China, but "with America-First Trump that seems too much to hope for", he said.

All eyes will be on the dynamic between Mr Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, two figures who relish the unpredictability they have sown.

Mr Johnson is under intense pressure to pull Britain out of the EU and many see his relationship with the United States as key.

"My message to G7 leaders this week is this: the Britain I lead will be an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation," he said.

Mrs Merkel is in her last term of office.

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, up for re-election this autumn, is at the centre of a political scandal.

Mr Macron himself is deeply unpopular at home, and the yellow vest protesters who have plagued him since last year have followed him to Biarritz.

Even the beautiful resort town was in a subdued mood after being locked down during the final week of the summer break for most of France.

The Bellevue congress centre where the leaders will gather on Saturday night overlooks the carefully raked sandy beach - normally beloved by surfers and swimmers alike, but empty for now.

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