'Diplomacy is back': G7 foreign ministers meet for first time in two years amid strict Covid controls

The meeting is being held at a Covid secure location in London. Credit: PA

The first G7 foreign ministers meeting in two years kicked off at a Covid secure location in London hosted by Dominic Raab.

The Foreign Secretary welcomed his counterparts to Lancaster House for the G7 meeting, the first opportunity for representatives of the group of industrialised nations to meet face-to-face since the pandemic hit.

Discussions focused on relations with Russia, China and Iran on Tuesday, as well as the crisis in Myanmar, and violence in Ethiopia and Syria, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Mr Raab said the in-person meeting showed that "diplomacy is back" and said the meeting represented a chance for countries to tackle international problems together.

"This demonstrates diplomacy is back, we've got the G7 countries here, we've got our Indo-Pacific partners arriving for the session tomorrow," the foreign secretary said.

"And I think it shows you the importance of - throughout all the global challenges we are facing all the international challenges we are facing - of getting countries together.

"That's what global Britain is all about and that's how I think we don’t just grasp the opportunities that lie ahead but really grapple with all the problems we're facing at the moment."

Also on Tuesday, Boris Johnson held talks with US secretary of state Antony Blinken.

A Downing Street statement said the pair "discussed the UK’s ambition for our G7 presidency and the close alignment between UK and US foreign policy.

"They agreed that UK-US cooperation will be instrumental in achieving progress on tackling Covid, protecting the environment and other international priorities.

"They also welcomed wider work the UK and US are doing together in areas such as trade and defence.

“The prime minister and Secretary Blinken agreed that the global roll out of vaccines will be key to defeating the coronavirus pandemic.

"They underlined the importance of G7 work in this area, including efforts to increase international manufacturing capability.

 “They also discussed a number of foreign policy issues including Afghanistan, Iran and China."

As the two countries forge a fresh relationship following the departure of Donald Trump from the White House, Mr Blinken said the US has “no closer ally, no closer partner” than the UK.

Nations including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the EU joined the UK for talks throughout the day on Tuesday, while the foreign ministers attended a dinner discussion with the guest nations in the evening.

Discussions are set to cover the coup in Myanmar, when Mr Raab urged his counterparts to take stronger action against the military junta, before turning to the situation in Libya and the ongoing war in Syria.

Dominic Raab also outlined the importance of helping India as the country suffers a Covid crisis

Mr Raab will use Tuesday evening to outline a vision of cooperation between the G7 and Indo-Pacific nations to develop stronger trade ties, ensure stability and tackle climate change, according to the FCDO.

Ahead of the talks, he said: “The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats.

The foreign ministers of the G7 on the stairs at Lancaster House in London

“The addition of our friends from Australia, India, the Republic of Korea and South Africa, as well as the chair of Asean reflects the growing significance of the Indo Pacific region for the G7.”

G7 ministers will invest £10.9 billion in development finance over the next two years to help women in developing countries access jobs, build resilient businesses and recover from the impacts of Covid-19.

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They are also expected to sign up to new targets to get 40 million more girls into school, and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in poorer nations by 2026, the FCDO said.

But the commitments come as Mr Raab faces sustained criticism for cuts to foreign aid, from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, citing the financial impact of the pandemic.

The foreign secretary told the joint UK-US press conference that aid cuts had been a “difficult decision” but that the UK still has scope “to be an even greater force for good in the world”.

Mr Raab held talks with his US counterpart on Monday Credit: Jonathan Buckmaster/Daily Express/PA

Elsewhere, Mr Raab held face-to-face talks at Chevening House in Kent on Monday with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi, where they spoke of trade, security co-operation and climate change.

Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and South Africa have been invited as guests as the UK tries to deepen ties with the Indo-Pacific region.

Regular testing, size limits and other measures have been pledged to prevent the spread of Covid-19 during the discussions.