US-UK to sign post-Covid Atlantic charter in echo of wartime accord

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden will draw comparisons to Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt by signing a new Atlantic charter in an attempt to show UK and US leadership can frame a post-Covid order in the same way the 1941 charter signed by the two leaders prefigured a new world order after the second world war.

The symbolic signing of a new version of the Atlantic charter will take place at the first in-person bilateral meeting between the two leaders since Biden became president, and comes before the critical summit of G7 leaders in Cornwall.

The original charter, signed in August 1941 at a time of greater equity between the two powers, championed the values of democracy and free speech and opposition to Nazi totalitarianism, leading directly to the creation of postwar institutions such as the UN and Nato.

Downing Street said: “Just as our countries worked together to rebuild the world following the second world war, so too will we apply our combined strength to the enormous challenges facing the planet today – from global defence and security to building back better from coronavirus to stopping climate change.”

The somewhat self-regarding comparisons to Churchill and Roosevelt by the two leaders may seem risky or premature, but the aim is to show they both believe the pandemic has proved a global turning point that requires unprecedented transatlantic cooperation based on shared values of defending democracy, collective security and an open trading system.

Speaking before the summit, Johnson said: “While Churchill and Roosevelt faced the question of how to help the world recover following a devastating war, today we have to reckon with a very different but no less intimidating challenge – how to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

“And as we do so, cooperation between the UK and US, the closest of partners and the greatest of allies, will be crucial for the future of the world’s stability and prosperity.

“The agreements President Biden and I will make [Thursday], rooted as they are in our shared values and outlook, will form the foundation of a sustainable global recovery. Eighty years ago the US president and the British prime minister stood together promising a better future. Today we do the same.”

Based on eight shared challenges, the charter will highlight the new threats facing the world such as cyber-attacks, the climate crisis, protection of biodiversity and preventing future pandemics. The original charter skilfully bound the US into the fight against nazism and upheld the principle of national self-determination.

The bilateral will also cover the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, a slow opening up of air travel to the US, a pandemic forecasting centre, technology transfer and a negotiated end to the Airbus and Boeing trade disputes. A transport working party will be set up to look at the opening up of transatlantic travel, but, to the frustration of the airline industry, the US is offering no timetable.

Johnson had invited the leaders of South Korea, Australia and India to the Cornwall summit, hinting at turning the G7 into an alliance of 10 democracies, the D10, ranged against the autocracies of China and Russia, but he came up against resistance from many G7 states, including Italy and France.

The Foreign Office strategy director, Melinda Bohannon, speaking at the Atlantic Council, said she believed the immediate focus in Whitehall at the moment was about “getting the band back together”, rather than building a new club of democracies that may be seen as divisive.

Growing public anger at the failure of the G7 states to share their hoarded surplus vaccines, and continuing risks facing the poorer countries illustrated by the Covid crisis in India, also forced Johnson to refocus the summit towards a plan to vaccinate the entire world by the end of next year. The South African leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, was added to the guest list and will demand the issue of vaccine inequality be addressed, with a comprehensive plan of the kind demanded by the former UK prime minister Gordon Brown.

Campaigners from The One organisation claimed from 19 July the UK would pass the “tipping point”, when supply will outstrip demand for the vaccine in the country. The UK is on course to have at least 113m surplus doses by the end of the year.

Edwin Ikhuoria, executive director for Africa at The One Campaign, said 1bn Covid vaccine doses needed to be shared by the end of the year, and 2bn as soon as possible. G7 countries also needed to contribute $36bn (£25.5bn) as their fair share of the $66bn needed for global herd immunity by end 2022. To meet its fair share of the global financing needs in 2021 the UK should contribute an additional $400m.

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