Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson. Image credit: Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr

With the COVID-19 crisis raging on in the global south, the summit meeting of major western economies — the G7 — failed to address the international public health emergency caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The leaders took a minimal charity approach: some cash, some vaccine doses. The latter fell well short of the urgent need as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Millions will go unvaccinated, thousands will die,” was the response of former U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown who pointed out that 11 billion doses of vaccine were needed, and $50 billion in cash, not the measly one billion doses and $5 billion offered up by the G7 leaders.

What was “an unforgivable moral failure” for Brown, was for Max Lawson, head of policy at Oxfam, a G7 Summit “that will live on in infamy” for failing to address “the biggest health emergency in a century.”

Instead of looking at how intellectual property rights could be waived so that vaccines could be produced in the south or forcing the major pharmaceutical companies to allow production around the globe under licence, the G7 conducted meeting room diplomacy as usual.

Along with the U.K. and Germany, Canada was silent on the subject of monopoly pharmaceutical companies unwilling to act on behalf of countries in need of vaccines because it would interfere with their record profits.

In April of 2020 the WHO established COVAX, a partnership to deliver vaccines where they were most needed. Not only does COVAX remain underfunded, its main supplier of vaccines — the India-based Serum — has faced a series of problems in meeting its targets for production, creating shortfalls around the globe.

Worse, as the COVID-19 crisis exploded in India, the government imposed an export ban on Serum-produced vaccines, hamstringing the WHO support program for poor countries.

The need to step in and support COVAX was not acted upon by the G7. The result is massive shortages of vaccine in countries with no vaccine production capacity.  

As well as the failure to address the world health emergency, inadequate action on climate change drew great attention from G7 protesters.

Boris Johnson stumbles onto world stage

As host, the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a vision for Great Britain post-Brexit, in which the country he leads would resume a leading role in the world.

In advance of the G7, the U.K. and the U.S. signed an Atlantic Charter in homage to the 1941 document that announced co-operation between the two countries.

While the U.K. prime minister waxed eloquent on the need for a world order based on the rule of law, the G7 European countries wanted to know why Britain was not living up to its written and signed Brexit undertaking on Northern Ireland.

As part of Brexit, shipments of chilled meats from Britain to Northern Ireland need to pass EU border inspection.

The single EU market arrangement that applies to both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland requires that — for the purpose of the commercial arrangement — Northern Ireland be treated as a foreign country by the U.K.

Of course this makes a mockery of Johnson’s claim that by leaving the EU, the U.K. regained all the sovereign powers it had conceded as an EU member. 

Because Johnson gave every indication he was unwilling to abide by the terms of the Brexit agreement as they applied to Northern Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy decided to make this contentious issue their focus at the G7 summit, spoiling Johnson’s imagined return of the U.K. as a top global power.

Since the single market agreement for Ireland is seen as an important support for the Good Friday accord between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K., the U.S. president — a believer in the accord designed to end tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland — added his weight to the European case for respecting the Brexit Agreement.

As host, Boris Johnson emerged from the summit as a leader unable to control the agenda of his own meeting. As the Guardian put it, Johnson let the sausage wars derail his aspirations on the world stage.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

[Updated image] Image credit: Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr

Duncan Cameron

Duncan Cameron

Born in Victoria B.C. in 1944, Duncan now lives in Vancouver. Following graduation from the University of Alberta he joined the Department of Finance (Ottawa) in 1966 and was financial advisor to the...