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International politics and domestic politics are bound up with each other. Countries pursuing an isolationist agenda, however they dress it up, always find that the world does not stop, and no, you cannot get off. This proposition was brought sharply into focus at the G7, where the British government’s reactionary and authoritarian agenda bumped up against the real world.
The G7 meeting has the capacity to address some of the world’s most pressing problems and make a significant contribution to resolving them, in co-operation with the global South.
Yet this Tory government is generally playing a far from constructive role in international affairs, and is actually a blockage to progress on many issues.
Ahead of the G7 summit itself, the finance ministers’ meeting hatched a global plan to increase the tax on some very large corporations.
If effective, this is a welcome development. It is a US-led break from a central neoliberal idea that lower taxes means more investment and better allocation of resources.
The economic toll of the Covid crisis is very large in the G7 countries because in general they let the virus freely circulate. It is imperative that workers and the poor are not faced with picking up the bill.
The tax plan still faces many hurdles, but it is clear that the British government's role was in watering down the original Biden proposal for a common 21 per cent minimum rate, yet it had the gall to claim credit for the entire deal.
We have also subsequently learnt that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has put a great deal of effort into exempting the big banks from the tax plan, in order to preserve the City of London’s untaxed profits.
On the Covid crisis itself the Prime Minister’s claim that he wanted to lead in “vaccinating the world” also rings completely hollow. His government is one of the many rich Western countries with Big Pharma companies and who have blocked vaccine patent waivers at the WTO.
President Joe Biden has belatedly supported the waiver. This would allow rapid and large-scale production of generic doses. But the UK is blocking it, and the only conceivable reason is to benefit the Big Pharma companies.
The promise of 500 million doses from the US and 100 million from the UK government should be understood in this context. Waiving patents means vaccines can be supplied to the world’s poorest countries as production can be increased massively.
Blocking the waiver, as the US did and the UK and other G7 members continue to do, means that inevitably many, many people in the world’s poorer countries will needlessly die.
Pledges of vaccines, which are explicitly a response to the positive work of China’s and Russia’s “vaccine diplomacy,” are clearly less effective even if they materialise.
Probably the biggest challenge of all for the G7 is on the issue of climate change. Yet we learnt recently that, while the government has ambitious targets for reduction of emissions, it has no concrete plan to achieve these at all. For all our sakes they need to formulate a robust plan ahead of COP26 later this year.
Britain’s long process of de-industrialisation and the run-down in North Sea oil production both mean it has had a relatively easy ride in reducing CO2 emissions. But the effect of these is not going to be as substantial in the future.
Huge and rapid action is required simply to continue those trends, but we are yet to see any evidence of that.
The government’s very negative international role and how it is entwined with domestic politics has been highlighted through attempts in the Commons to restore cuts in the international aid budget.
Ministers seem to have no awareness that any claim to moral authority in leading the G7 is disastrously undermined by these cuts.
The government mantra that “there is no money left” for desperately needed aid is clearly hypocritical as it wastes the far greater sum of £37 billion on a failed private-sector test and trace system.
However, the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol shows the reactionary nature of this English nationalist government at its most stark. Talks with the EU are close to collapse and they are taking the UK government to court.
The US ambassador has issued a demarche, which The Times tells us “is a formal diplomatic communication or protest lodged with a government, more commonly an adversary than a close ally.”
Perhaps most important of all the British government’s efforts to tear up the treaty it signed flouts the will of the Irish people, North and South, who opposed Brexit and support both the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement.
Biden is certainly no socialist, but this British government which Donald Trump helped to create is significantly to the right of the US president.
This is true on taxation, on public spending, on the vaccine waiver and on upholding the Good Friday Agreement. It is said that Biden wants to reduce nuclear weapons multilaterally. The UK is increasing them unilaterally.
Socialists and the wider labour movement, and other progressive forces, should understand the importance of these issues.
It is often falsely claimed that we should “stick to bread and butter issues.”
But we lost the last two elections with the best leader Labour has ever had and we were offering bread, butter and jam in our manifestos.
But the Tories literally Trumped us with wild accusations on international and related issues that have traction with some of the population. We need answers to these questions.
At the same time Boris Johnson says he rejects the term “special relationship” because it implies subservience.
The truth is that ever since Suez British governments have been completely politically subservient to the US, a reflection of the even longer-standing economic inferiority.
Johnson’s English nationalism also rejects Bidenism, and is a vain attempt to “Make Britain great again” echoing his friend Trump.
This is causing him great difficulties internationally. It is long overdue that we cause him similar difficulties at home.
Diane Abbott MP is a Labour Party Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
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