Fallout of the G-7

It is now the end of 2019’s long and arduous political Summer. The G-7 has come and gone, having met in Biarritz, France earlier this week, and the nation’s that constitute it are no closer to effectively dealing with many of the myriad issues facing the democratic world than they were before. With the United States continuing to oppose any involvement in climate change meetings, and the United Kingdom on the brink of a “no-deal” Brexit, tensions were high. In the end, the leaders of the two nations arguably most under the microscope provided more questions than answers. The two nations most tied by history, language, and culture seem to have become the worry of the Western world.

Illustration by Janet Ali.

Illustration by Janet Ali.

For the United States, the 2019 G-7 was not unlike the previous summits attended by the current administration. Gaffes and confusion were the words of the weekend, with President Donald Trump expressing second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China (which was later walked back by a member of the President’s staff as a “misquote”), and later suggested Russia be readmitted to the yearly summits, to which he was immediately rebuked (Russia had been suspended from the then G-8 in 2014 for their annexation of Crimea, they then chose to leave the organization permanently in 2017). The U.S. delegation also continued its habit of skipping climate-change related meetings, even signaling they thought their time was better spent elsewhere. Wrapping up a weekend comedy of errors, President Trump claimed that the U.S. and China had spoken by phone and were ready to start economic negotiations again. Beijing responded that there had been no such call.

Despite all of it, there was a ray of light for advocates of a closer relationship between the United States and Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the sidelines of the G-7 meetings, and began a process of facilitating an eventual meeting between President Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. President Trump has signaled he would be open to such a meeting if “the conditions were right,” and also going so-far as to say the U.S. did not support regime change in Iran.  Whether this represents a potential for cooling of the tensions sparked by the U.S. exiting the “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (known by President Trump as the “Iran nuclear deal”), or likely just sly maneuvering by a Europe clearly still interested in maintaining the terms of that agreement remains to be seen.

For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, the weekend was much more subdued, or as subdued as a country about to leave an International union in which four of the other states at the table are members of. Gone were the typical gaffes and jokes, Johnson appeared to embrace his role as Prime Minister, though he still slang blame toward the European Union for the breakdown in negotiations as Brexit hurtles toward its no-deal deadline. Despite his blaming, he was careful to lace in that the United Kingdom would remain open to future trade expansions with the European Union.

Prime Minister Johnson’s week got considerably more exciting after his return from the G-7 though, as on Wednesday, Johnson petitioned Queen Elizabeth II to use her ceremonial power of “proroguing” Parliament to suspend the coming session in early September, when representatives are returning from their summer recess. Under this proroguing, Parliament will not reconvene until October 9, just two weeks before the deadline for the United Kingdom and the European Union to come to an agreement and avoid the dreaded “no-deal” Brexit, which would see the United Kingdom split-off from the European Union without an established economic or defense infrastructure. This curious decision to invoke the British Crown’s power comes just a day after Johnson reiterated his commitment to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union by October 31, with or without a deal. The situation places the British Monarchy in a precarious position, as it has been their tradition to remain apolitical, and drags the Queen into the conversation.  

After three years of discussions on Brexit, negotiations have not progressed, and by choosing to prevent the meeting of Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson all but assures the invocation of Article 50’s October 31 deadline, which would expel the United Kingdom from the European Union with no deals in place for the future. This gamble by Boris Johnson is defended by an idea that when there is no time left, both sides will have to come together in order to reach a deal. One wonders, even in the best of circumstances, could a hastily thrown together plan be outlined and implemented in the two weeks Parliament will have in session before the deadline? It seems unlikely, and the fallout will affect all of Europe and effect markets across the globe in a time of already rife uncertainty. Further, issues with border checkpoints and accessibility for the Irish, which will remain in the European Union should a no-deal Brexit occur, illustrating an imminent situation of uncertainty both on the European mainland, and the British Isles. Under current arrangements should a no-deal Brexit go through, the border between Ireland (not a member of the United Kingdom, would stay in the European Union), and Northern Ireland (member of the United Kingdom) would become a customs border with checkpoints. History tells us that such a situation in untenable at the Irish/Northern Irish border, as checkpoints have led to violence and unrest in the region many times before.

No member of G-7 escaped attention throughout the week, but drew much attention to a $20 million package sent to assist in the fighting of Amazon fires. The decision was made with unity across the members, but leads one to question just how seriously the member states are taking the crisis in the Amazon, and then more largely, climate change. The Amazon is the worlds’ largest rainforest, and it is being consumed at an alarming rate (an unprecedented 80,000 fires have sprung up in 2019), while coinciding with the effects of increasing climate change. While the gesture is surely nice for the image of an organization with the perceived power of the G-7, one frets not much will be done on a budget that doesn’t even account for a quarter of the cost of a single fifth generation fighter jet like the F-35 ($94 million - $122 million per unit).