Johnson: G7 must learn from errors of the pandemic to ‘build back better’
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Boris Johnson said the G7 must learn from the mistakes of the pandemic as he predicted the leading economies would “bounce back” from the Covid-19 recession.
The Prime Minister said the group of leading democracies should also avoid the errors that followed the 2008 financial crash and ensure the recovery helped all parts of society.
The G7 nations will promise a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine to help poorer countries tackle the pandemic, with Mr Johnson promising at least 100 million surplus doses from the UK over the coming year.
The leaders were met by the Prime Minister and Carrie Johnson as they arrived at the summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, and posed for a “family photograph” ahead of their discussions.
It is the first face-to-face meeting for the group in almost two years as a result of what Mr Johnson called the “most wretched pandemic”.
The Prime Minister said: “We need to make sure that we learn the lessons from the pandemic, we need to make sure that we don’t repeat some of the errors that we doubtless made in the course of the last 18 months or so.”
He said the G7 economies: the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy; had the potential to “bounce back very strongly” from the pandemic.
“But it is vital that we don’t repeat the mistake of the last great crisis, the last great economic recession of 2008, when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society.”
There was a risk the pandemic could leave a “lasting scar” as “inequalities may be entrenched”, Mr Johnson said.
“We need to make sure that as we recover, we level up across our societies and we build back better,” he added.
The Prime Minister also suggested the recovery should be a “gender neutral” or “more feminine” one – a reference to a commitment to spend £430 million on education, especially for girls, in some of the world’s poorest nations.
The politicians, including US President Joe Biden, later attended a lavish reception at the Eden Project attended by the Queen.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took part in their first G7 events, another milestone in their progression as senior royals.
The duchess and US First Lady Jill Biden visited an academy school for four to 11-year-olds to highlight the issue of the early years development of children.
William and Kate joined the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the G7 leaders reception on Friday evening.
The opening of the summit saw the politicians arrive on the beach at Carbis Bay before the leaders of the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the EU gathered together for the customary group photo.
With the focus on avoiding the spread of coronavirus, Mr and Mrs Johnson bumped elbows with the visiting leaders in place of the pre-pandemic handshakes.
The seaside location led Mrs Biden to joke “I feel like we are at a wedding”, while the newlywed Mr Johnson said it was like “walking down the aisle”.
President Biden urged the watching media to go swimming, quipping “everyone in the water”.
The lure of the sea has already tempted Mr Johnson, who went for a dip on both Thursday and Friday.
Following the group photo, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, was seen in deep conversation with Mr Biden.
Mr Johnson had a diplomatic triumph on Thursday when he met Mr Biden for the US President’s first overseas talks.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Washington next month, beating Mr Johnson to the White House.
Over the coming days, Mr Johnson will have talks with Mrs Merkel and other key EU players, including Mr Macron and the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, as efforts continue to resolve the dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements.
A “sausage war” trade dispute looms if the UK unilaterally delays imposing a ban on British-made chilled meats heading to Northern Ireland which is due to come into force at the end of the month.
The pledge on vaccines comes with the leaders under pressure to do more to share the burden of protecting the world from the virus.
Under the Prime Minister’s plan, the UK will provide five million doses by the end of September, with 25 million more by the end of 2021 and the rest in 2022.
But he resisted calls from campaigners to take further action, including waiving patents on vaccines, insisting that the deal to supply Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs at cost price and the UK’s funding for the Covax initiative to provide doses around the world showed Britain was doing its share.
The Prime Minister told the BBC: “I think that the people of this country should be very proud that of the 1.5 billion doses that are being distributed around the world to the poorest and neediest in the world under the Covax programme, one in three come from the Oxford/AstraZeneca deal that the UK did, allowing those vaccines to be distributed at cost.”
Zoe Abrams, executive director at the British Red Cross, said the promise on vaccines was “heartening” but added: “While every commitment must be welcomed, more needs to be done, and fast.”
The UK has gone back on a commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting the amount to 0.5% due to the economic carnage caused by the pandemic.
But the donation of vaccines will count as extra aid spending on top of the £10 billion already promised under the reduced target.
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