Boris Johnson has begun his first summit as Prime Minister by clashing with European Council president Donald Tusk over who would be to blame for a failure to reach a Brexit deal.
Mr Tusk said he hoped the Prime Minister would not go down in history as “Mr no deal” ahead of their face-to-face talks at the G7 summit in Biarritz on Sunday.
But speaking on the plane to Biarritz, the Prime Minister shot back by suggesting that failure to reach a Brexit agreement would also reflect badly on Mr Tusk.
The gathering in the French resort marks Mr Johnson’s debut on the world stage, and he will also have a highly-anticipated first meeting with US President Donald Trump, where they are expected to discuss a potential post-Brexit trade deal.
Mr Johnson said the gathering of leaders from the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan was not a “wonderful boondoggle at some posh hotel”, but a chance to improve the lives of people around the world.
In comments as Mr Johnson prepared to board his plane to France, Mr Tusk warned he would no co-operate with a no-deal Brexit, an apparent sign the European Union would not be willing to create a series of side deals to manage the impact.
Tomorrow I meet PM @BorisJohnson. I hope that he will not like to go down in history as “Mr. No Deal”. The EU is ready to listen to operational, realistic ideas acceptable to all Member States including Ireland, if and when the UK government is ready to put them on the table.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) August 24, 2019
Mr Tusk said: “One thing I will not cooperate on is no deal. I still hope that Prime Minister Johnson will not like to go down in history as `Mr no deal’.
“We are willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all member states including Ireland, if and when the UK Government is ready to put them on the table.”
On the way to Biarritz, Mr Johnson gave his response, telling reporters: “I have made it absolutely clear I don’t want a no-deal Brexit.
“But I say to our friends in the EU if they don’t want a no-deal Brexit then we have got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty.
“If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as ‘Mr no-deal Brexit’ then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him too.”
Mr Johnson said he expected talks on his alternative to the backstop “in the coming weeks”, with discussions “in great detail” ahead of the October 31 exit day.
The European Council president has previously claimed there is a “special place in hell” for people who backed Brexit without a clear plan to implement it.
Asked if he thought that was aimed at him, the Prime Minister said: “I have great relations with our friends and partners in the EU and intend to continue to improve them the whole time, without getting into any post-Brexit eschatology with the president of the council.”
The G7 summit comes amid a mounting trade war between the US and China, with Mr Trump saying on the eve of the summit he had “hereby ordered” American firms to leave China.
For many years China (and many other countries) has been taking advantage of the United States on Trade, Intellectual Property Theft, and much more. Our Country has been losing HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year to China, with no end in sight….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019
Mr Johnson appealed for calm – warning the dispute between Beijing and Washington would have a knock-on effect on the global economy.
He said: “Don’t forget the UK is at risk of being implicated in this.
“The value of our goods affected is £2.25 billion, £1.1 billion on whisky alone that we could face if this goes on.
“This is not the way to proceed.
“Apart from anything else, those who support the tariffs are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy irrespective of whether or not that is true.
“So I want to see an opening up of global trade, I want to see a dialling down of tensions and I want to see tariffs come off.”
As the summit’s host, French President Emmanuel Macron has put the destruction of the Amazon rainforest on the summit agenda.
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/dogOJj9big
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019
Mr Johnson said: “We need to escalate here at the G7 the tragedy of what humanity is inflicting on the natural world.”
But he played down the prospect of the destruction having an impact on the possibility of a trade deal with Brazil.
“There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals and I don’t want to see that,” he said.