Boris Johnson has rejected claims of “moral failure” by the G7 over providing more COVID vaccines for poorer nations – as he dismissed suggestions a Brexit row had overshadowed the world leaders’ Cornwall summit.
At the end of three days of talks at the seaside resort of Carbis Bay, the heads of the world’s leading democracies committed to providing one billion doses of coronavirus jabs over the next year.
The prime minister described the pledge as one of the “triumphs” of the G7 summit.
However, charities claimed the G7 had chosen to “cook the books” on their vaccine pledge.
The summit’s final communique gave a commitment to sharing only 870 million doses directly, with the rest of the one billion pledge made up through funding to an international vaccine-sharing scheme.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has challenged G7 leaders to help vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population by the time they meet again next year – a target the WHO has said will need 11 billion doses.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown told Sky News the G7 summit will go down as a “missed opportunity” as he accused leaders of “unforgivable moral failure” over providing vaccines to the rest of the world.
But, speaking at a news conference on Sunday at the end of the Cornwall summit, Mr Johnson pushed back against Mr Brown’s assessment.
“I really must reject that,” he said. “This is another billion (doses) made up of a massive contribution by the United States, other friends – the UK putting in another 100 million.
“This is June to June – now until next June – and don’t forget this vaccine has literally only been invented very recently, these vaccines have only come onstream very recently.”
He added the G7 were “going flat out and we are producing vaccines as fast as we can, and distributing them as fast as we can”.
And the prime minister said a target to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 will be done “very largely thanks to the efforts of the countries who have come here today”.
In his own end-of-summit news conference, US President Joe Biden said helping the rest of the world battle the COVID pandemic would be a “constant project for a long time”.
And he added there was a “clear consensus” among other G7 leaders that the vaccine donation pledges wouldn’t be the end.
The WHO have also said the waiving of intellectual property rights on COVID vaccines is “essential” to inoculating the world.
But G7 countries are split between those in favour of waiving vaccine patents – such as the US and France – and those opposed, including the UK and Germany.
Asked why he did not support waiving intellectual property rights on vaccines, Mr Johnson said: “The crucial thing is to make sure we build up capacity, build up manufacturing capacity – fill and finish and manufacturing – around the world, particularly in Africa.
“I think we should be sharing knowledge as much as we can, whilst obviously protecting the… incentives for innovation.
“You’ve got to accomplish both things at once.”
The prime minister highlighted the Oxford-AstraZenca model of providing vaccines “at cost” as “highly effective”.
As well as the G7 leaders’ discussions on COVID recovery, future pandemic preparedness and climate change at the summit, lingering Brexit tensions have also been on display in Cornwall between the UK and EU leaders.
But Mr Johnson denied that a continuing UK-EU row over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland had left a “sour taste” at the Cornwall gathering.
“I can tell you that the vast, vast majority of the conversations that we have had over the last three or four days have been about other subjects and there has been a fantastic degree of harmony between the leaders of our countries,” he said.
He added the subject of the Brexit row had “occupied a vestigial, vanishingly small proportion of our deliberations”.
In bilateral talks on the sidelines of G7 summit, French President Emmanuel Macron was reported to have suggested Northern Ireland was a different country to the UK.
Asked if he had found a chance to correct Mr Macron during the summit, Mr Johnson said: “Of course we make the point continuously we are part of one great, indivisible United Kingdom.”
But the French president said he “never took the liberty to question the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom” and warned people to “not waste time with controversies that are created in corridors and backrooms”.
“I remember that when Boris Johnson came to power, he didn’t want to keep the backstop, which was defended by Theresa May,” Mr Macron said at his end-of-summit news conference, in reference to Brexit negotiations in 2019.
“Boris Johnson knew very well then that an issue of controls would be posed and he signed a protocol for Northern Ireland that provided for these controls.”
Following the conclusion of the G7 summit, a group of leading charities accused world leaders of having “fallen disappointingly short”.
Organisations including UNICEF UK, Crisis Action, and Action for Global Health said in a joint statement: “The success of this year’s G7 summit should be judged by whether leaders have put their money and resources where their mouths are.
“Without 10 billion vaccines, the removal of patents and investment in healthcare systems pledges to inoculate the world by the end of next year ring hollow.”
Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam, said: “This G7 summit will live on in infamy.
“Faced with the biggest health emergency in a century and a climate catastrophe that is destroying our planet, they have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times.
“Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world.
“In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Boris Johnson’s strained relationship with fellow world leaders has taken centre stage and derailed this crucial summit.
“By every measure, the prime minister’s summit has come up short. No clear plan to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022.
“No ambitious commitments to place the path on the path to climate safety.”