Now the G7 too is having its energy sapped by Brexit

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

There is a certain symmetry about one of the principal themes of the Carbis Bay G7 summit. The first of these meetings – at Rambouillet, outside Paris, in 1975 – was called by the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, to summon a collective effort to stave off an energy crisis.

It began as the Group of Six – the US, Japan, West Germany, the UK, France and Italy. But, in the way of things, what was intended as a one-off special event took on a life of its own, with Canada joining in 1976. In the initial excitement of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the west’s attempts to instruct the former USSR in the supposed wonders of western capitalism, Russia was added to the annual gathering of summiteers in 1997.

However, it was always a mistake to think that the western economic model could be imposed on Russia; and, quite apart from that, Russia’s revanchist behaviour towards its near neighbours led to its expulsion in 2014.

The crisis that led to the formation of the G6, then G7, was provoked by fears of energy shortages and dependence on oil supplies from the Middle East. This time, in addition to obvious concerns about the pandemic, the crisis has arisen from fears about global heating that have been provoked by – well, the G7’s successful efforts from the 1970s onwards to ensure supplies of fossil fuels. That’s the way it goes in economic history: to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, it’s one damned energy policy after another.

Having reported on many of those G7 meetings over the years, I can confidently say that, not infrequently, months of careful preparation of the agenda by highly qualified officials can be overshadowed by more topical events. On this occasion, of course, it has been the predictable row between the UK and our former partners in the EU.

The mounting tension over Northern Ireland and the threat to the Good Friday agreement became a major concern for President Joe Biden en route to the summit, bringing to mind the words of British statesman George Canning in 1826: “I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.”

Now, let’s face it: our prime minister knew there would be problems at the Northern Ireland/Great Britain border but denied and ignored them in order to “get Brexit done”.

Global Britain? Pull the other one. Once the most popular European destination for inward investment, the UK has been overtaken by France for two years running

In a sane and decent world, for this act alone he ought to be suspended from public office for life. Instead, he rides high in the polls thanks, apparently, to a mixture of public relief about the vaccine programme and his putative “charisma”. There are some unfortunate precedents in European history for where “charisma” can lead, but we had better not go there. However, my suspicion is that the chaos caused by the way the government has messed up so many people’s travel plans will lead to some chickens coming home to roost. Dithering at the public’s expense could well take the gilt off Johnson’s populist reputation.

The Northern Irish fiasco is not the only fault line in the workings of Brexit. Prominent Brexiters such as Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s are now complaining that, thanks to the lunatic policy they advocated, they cannot get the staff they need from continental Europe. This crisis affects the entire hospitality business. Moreover, researchers from Aston University find that, thanks to the wilful neglect by the Brexiters of the interests of our financial and other services, exports of services were £113bn lower between referendum-year 2016 and 2019 than they would have been if previous trends had continued.

Global Britain? Pull the other one. Once the most popular European destination for inward investment, the UK has been overtaken by France for two years running. There are countless reports of the difficulties of doing business as a result of the hard Brexit that was desired by Johnson yet whose predictable – and predicted – consequences are blamed by his ineffable negotiator Lord Frost on the alleged obduracy of the EU.

Brexit is proving to be the unmitigated disaster we “Remoaners” feared. I am not surprised that Gordon Brown has called for the UK to rejoin the EU, although he does not believe that this will be possible in the short term.

Brown’s slogan for the referendum campaign would have been “leading, not leaving”. The fact of the matter is that Brexit is proving not merely what Michael Bloomberg termed “stupid”; it is a tragedy. A European friend observed that, just as in normal life people don’t like feeling rejected, how do we think the rest of Europe feels about being rejected by a UK that was considered a beneficent influence? After all, we may, like others, have fought our corner, but which country’s leader inspired the single market so valued by our former partners? Yes: none other than Margaret Thatcher.

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