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Three days of discussions – as well as a beach barbecue – in Cornwall are over for G7 leaders. So what did their summit amount to?

COVID-19

What was agreed: G7 leaders committed to providing one billion doses of COVID vaccines to poorer countries over the next year. They also agreed to initiatives on future pandemic preparedness such as improving virus surveillance systems and a mission to reduce the time taken to develop new vaccines and treatments from 300 to 100 days.

What wasn’t agreed: Charities accused G7 leaders of “cooking the books” on their vaccine pledge, with their one billion doses promise made up of only 870 million doses directly donated. The rest will be made up through funding to an international vaccine-sharing scheme. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has said 11 billion doses are needed to help end the global pandemic. And G7 countries are still split on whether intellectual property rights should be waived on COVID vaccines, despite the WHO saying it is an “essential” step to inoculating the world.

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PM ‘rejects’ claims of moral failure over vaccine

Climate change

What was agreed: G7 countries committed to net zero carbon emissions no later than 2050 and to halve their collective emissions by 2030. There was also a commitment to conserve or protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit’s host, said G7 nations were “clear” that “action has to start with us”.

What wasn’t agreed: Campaigners criticised a lack of action on climate finance to help vulnerable communities and countries. It has been claimed that, without such cash, developing nations will be less inclined to cooperate at the COP-26 climate change summit in Glasgow later this year.

More on The G7

12/06/2021. Carbis Bay, United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson G7 Leaders Summit Day Two. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the The President of France Emmanuel Macron talking to a Red Arrows pilot at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. Pic:  Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street
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World leaders enjoyed a beach BBQ while at Carbis Bay

China

What was agreed: The G7 agreed to set up what is being viewed as an alternative to China’s belt and road initiative – an infrastructure strategy increasing Beijing’s economic and political influence across the world. The G7 plan aims to provide high quality financing for infrastructure such as railways in Africa and wind farms in Asia in order to propel global green economic growth.

What wasn’t agreed: Human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang were highlighted in the summit’s communique. But it was noted a section on forced labour made no specific mention of China, which has been accused of the use of forced labour in Xinjiang.

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What is the G7?

Brexit

What was agreed: The prime minister and EU leaders agreed to continue talking amid the ongoing dispute over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. US President Joe Biden also steered away from the row, despite reports the UK had recently received a “demarche” – a formal diplomatic protest – from the US over the dispute about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What wasn’t agreed: Number 10 was keen to stress Mr Johnson did not see this weekend’s summit as the forum to agree solutions to the Brexit dispute. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron denied he had questioned the “territorial integrity” of the UK in bilateral talks with the prime minister. This came after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed EU leaders had been “offensive” by suggesting Northern Ireland was a different country to the UK.

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British military laser could be used to target Russian drones in Ukraine

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British military laser could be used to target Russian drones in Ukraine

A new British military laser could be used in Ukraine to shoot down Russian drones, the defence secretary has suggested.

The DragonFire weapon, which is expected to be ready for deployment by 2027 at the latest, could have “huge ramifications” for Kyiv’s conflict against Russia, Grant Shapps said.

New reforms aimed at speeding up procurement mean the laser, which was originally set to be rolled out in 2032, will now be operational five years earlier than planned, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Russia-Ukraine war latest: Moscow accuses British special forces of operating in Ukraine

A target drone showing damaged caused by 'DragonFire' a British military laser weapon system
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A target drone and mortar casing showing the damage done by DragonFire. Pics: PA

A mortar casing showing damage done by 'DragonFire'

But Mr Shapps said he would look to see if the pace can be increased further “in order for Ukrainians perhaps to get their hands on it”.

“I’ve come down to speed up the production of the DragonFire laser system because I think given that there’s two big conflicts on, one sea-based, one in Europe, this could have huge ramifications to have a weapon capable particularly of taking down drones,” Mr Shapps said at the Porton Down military research hub in Salisbury.

“And so what I want to do is speed up what would usually be a very lengthy development procurement process, possibly up to 10 years, based on my conversations this morning, to a much shorter timeframe to get it deployed, potentially on ships, incoming drones, and potentially on land.

“Again, incoming drones, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how that could be helpful in Ukraine for example.”

Laser-directed energy weapons (LDEWs) use an intense beam of light to cut through their target.

The MoD hopes the DragonFire system will offer a low-cost alternative to missiles in shooting down attack drones and even mortars.

It has been developed by defence firms MBDA, Leonardy and QinetiQ and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

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The 'DragonFire' laser weapon system, which could be rushed on to the frontline in Ukraine to take down Russian drones.
Pic: PA
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The DragonFire laser weapon system and a metal plate showing the damage it can do. Pics: PA

A metal plate showing damaged caused by 'DragonFire', a British military laser weapon system

The new procurement model, coming into effect next week, is aimed at speeding up the process of getting cutting-edge military developments out onto the field.

“It’s designed to not wait until we have this at 99.9% perfection before it goes into the field, but get it to sort of 70% and then get it out there and then… develop it from there,” Mr Shapps said.

Mr Shapps added: “In a more dangerous world, our approach to procurement is shifting with it. We need to be more urgent, more critical and more global.”

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A dysfunctional week for the Tories and Labour amid honeytrap scandal and ‘tax dodging’ claims

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A dysfunctional week for the Tories and Labour amid honeytrap scandal and 'tax dodging' claims

We may have been in Easter recess the past couple of weeks, but on both sides of the party divide, there were those who did not get a rest from politics.

MP William Wragg undoubtedly had a dysfunctional week as the man at the centre of the Westminster honeytrap scandal.

He resigned the Conservative party whip as some colleagues looked on with a mixture of bemusement and anger at Number 10’s handling of the whole sorry affair.

Meanwhile, on the Labour side, deputy leader Angela Rayner can’t seem to shake off or shut down the persistent questions about whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago.

She insists she has done nothing wrong while there are Conservatives looking to weaponise the issue in this election year – with at least one local Tory councillor and other protesters this week hounding her on a visit to Teesside, with banners dubbing her a “tax dodger”‘ in the hope it will stick.

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This week in Electoral Dysfunction, Jess, Ruth and I chew over both the substance and the politics of these difficult situations and ask whether Number 10 and Labour are making tricky issues better or worse.

When it comes to Mr Wragg, who admitted sharing MPs’ and journalists’ phone numbers with someone he met on Grindr who had “compromising things” on him, there is widespread incredulity that a sitting MP would do such a thing, overlaid with some anger over Number 10’s handling of it – with some arguing that Rishi Sunak failed to move quickly enough to take control of the story, suspend Mr Wragg and look decisive.

Instead, ministers were dispatched to defend the MP as ”courageous”, while it was Mr Wragg himself who decided to give up the Tory whip his week. He is now sitting as an independent MP.

“Madness [to send pictures and give out personal details] and yet our leadership decided to defend him,” one former cabinet minister texted this week. “If it wasn’t so stupid. It would be genuinely funny. The script of the Thick Of It. A few of us messaged centre at weekend to say WTF. His resignation was inevitable.”

Ruth agrees, and says – while she has sympathy for Mr Wragg being in this “horrible situation” – that he is “somebody in an important job who has responsibilities” to the place he works and people with whom he works.

“The idea you throw all of that out of the window for a quick shag or to exchange a pic is so wilfully irresponsible that actually I don’t think [much of] the level of understanding, or acceptance or excuse that the government made on his behalf.

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Sexting MP ‘right to quit’

“I think it’s bad judgement and I think this is another one where you look at the judgement of the prime minister and go, you know this, this doesn’t fly.”

But aside from questions about the political handling from the centre – and there are issues around safeguarding a vulnerable MP, which I talk about in the pod – there are also wider questions, again, around MPs’ security in a world where contacts count and phone numbers are currency.

“People give numbers out all the time. Having people’s phone numbers is a massive currency in Westminster,” explains Jess, who points out that MPs are using personal phones in parliament.

“The trouble is that I think people think we have parliamentary phones but it’s just my personal phone, so they don’t own it. I’m way more careful about my parliamentary computer and the iPad they gave me.

“So I imagine what will come out of this is probably that we all have to have parliamentary-issued phones that are locked down by the security services. I imagine that’s where it’s going.”

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Starmer: Rayner tax story is ‘smear’

With a sex scandal engulfing the Conservatives once more, on the other side of the political divide, Ms Rayner is struggling to put to bed questions over whether she paid the right amount of tax when she sold her council house nearly a decade ago, before she became an MP.

Ms Rayner has made it clear she took tax advice at the time and has done nothing wrong, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out to defend her and accused the Tories of trying to smear her over a story with no substance.

Neither Ruth, Jess nor I think the story is getting much cut through, largely because of the complexity of it all, but that isn’t stopping the Conservatives pursuing Ms Rayner with real ferocity.

Ruth thinks the Tories are going in hard for a number of reasons.

First, she thinks Labour “hasn’t had this level of scrutiny for a long time”, so this is an opportunity for the party machine to “try to flex its muscles”. Second, Ms Rayner has been used as “an attack dog” for the party on these issues so “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.

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Angela Rayner’s tax affairs – a smear or a real trust problem for Labour?

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She also argues that “there is a purpose to man-mark her off the pitch”, but it won’t change the public’s view of Ms Rayner: “She’ll be a Marmite politician for the whole of her career because of the strength of her character. The people who love her will love her and the people who can’t stand her will turn the TV off when she comes on.”

Jess concedes the issue is hurting Ms Rayner but thinks she will ride it out and believes there’s a risk that “if it starts to look like the Conservatives are picking on her, it has a counter effect”.

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But, in a similar way to the Beergate story that hounded Sir Keir and Ms Rayner during 2021 – they were accused, and cleared, of breaking lockdown rules in Durham – the Conservatives show little sign of letting go of Ms Rayner or her tax affairs until they have wrung every single drop out of it.

And if, in an election year, they can try to make “tax dodger” land – or at least disrupt her campaigning – Conservative campaign headquarters will chalk it up as a win.

So while the hope from Ms Rayner’s and Sir Keir’s respective offices is that the story will burn itself out, it may be that Ms Rayner, in the end, has to do more to put it properly to bed: on that, all three of us agree.

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UK’s nuclear deterrent the ‘bedrock’ in Labour plans to keep Britain safe, Sir Keir Starmer says

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UK's nuclear deterrent the 'bedrock' in Labour plans to keep Britain safe, Sir Keir Starmer says

Sir Keir Starmer will announce later today that the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the “bedrock” of his plan to keep Britain safe.

If elected, the Labour leader plans for his party to prioritise defence procurement to strengthen UK security and economic growth, with an aim to direct British defence investment to British business first, with a higher bar set for any decision to buy abroad.

It comes as Sir Keir confirmed his ambition was to boost the defence budget to 2.5% of GDP, if it fits with Labour’s fiscal rules, according to an interview with the i newspaper.

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He is expected to make the announcement during a trip to a shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to see nuclear submarines being built – the first visit of its kind by a Labour leader in more than 30 years.

Sir Keir is set to say: “The changed Labour Party I lead knows that our nation’s defence must always come first. Labour’s commitment to our nuclear deterrent is total.

“In the face of rising global threats and growing Russian aggression, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of Labour’s plan to keep Britain safe. It will ensure vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high-paying jobs across the UK.”

The Labour leader will also affirm the party’s commitment to the Aukus security pact and will pledge that the submarines should be built in Barrow “for decades to come”.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY MARCH 13 File photo dated 11/03/24 of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has said he is "committed" to allowing a vote on legalising assisted dying in the next Parliament. The Labour leader made the pledge to campaigner Dame Esther Rantzen, whose revelation that she had joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland has put the subject under the spotlight in recent months. Issue date: Wednesday March 13, 2024.
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Pic: PA

During the visit, Sir Keir will speak to workers, union members and apprentices from the shipyard, alongside shadow defence secretary, John Healey, and Australian high commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith.

The party is set to campaign on its commitment to the nuclear deterrent in key communities in the nuclear supply chain, including: Plymouth Moor View, home to the Devonport shipyard; Filton and Bradley Stoke, home of Abbey Wood; and Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber, home to HMNB Clyde.

Mr Healey will add: “A strong defence industrial strategy will be hardwired into Labour’s mission 1 in government to drive economic growth across the UK. We will make it fundamental to direct defence investment first to British jobs and British industry.”

Construction of the Ambush submarine at the BAE Systems in Barrow-in Furness.
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Construction of the Ambush submarine in Barrow-in Furness. File pic: PA

‘Attempted distraction’ and ‘grotesque’ visit

Reacting to Sir Keir’s shipyard visit, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the trip was an “attempted distraction” from the “scandal” surrounding Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who is continuing to face questions over her living arrangements and tax affairs before she became an MP.

He said Sir Keir and Mr Healey, “tried twice to put Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the nation’s armed forces”.

Referring to David Lammy, he said Labour’s shadow foreign secretary “even voted repeatedly to scrap Trident”.

“They are not the party to be trusted with our nation’s defences,” he added.

“This is just another attempted distraction from the Angela Rayner scandal. If Sir Keir Starmer cannot show leadership on this issue, how can he be trusted to make decision on national security.”

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‘Is spending 2.5% of GDP on defence enough?’

The SNP, which opposes having a nuclear deterrent in the UK, also criticised the visit as “grotesque” and accused Labour of throwing “billions more down the drain”.

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The party’s defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes said: “Westminster has already wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on nuclear weapons and expensive nuclear energy.

“It is therefore grotesque that Sir Keir Starmer is prepared to throw billions more down the drain when his party claim there is no money to improve our NHS, help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future.

“This money would be better spent on a raft of other things – not least investing in the green energy gold rush, which would ensure Scotland, with all its renewable energy potential, could be a green energy powerhouse of the 21st century.”

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