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Friday briefing: Brexit ghost haunts summit feast

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Top story: Macron warns Johnson on NI deal

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are today’s top stories.

The G7 summit risks being overshadowed by the increasingly rancorous disagreements between the UK and the European Union over the Northern Ireland protocols in the Brexit agreement. As thousands of loyalists gathered in Belfast on Thursday night to protest about the deal, Emmanuel Macron warned Boris Johnson that France is not open to renegotiating any aspect of the protocol – and even appeared to raise questions about whether the UK could be trusted. Britain wants certain aspects of the deal to be renegotiated. Talks collapsed this week without agreement. Britain’s lead negotiator, Lord Frost, accused the EU of “legal purism” but senior Tories, from Johnson down, have changed their tune on the protocols. Under the protocol, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland in effect remains in the single market and EU customs policy is enforced on goods coming from Great Britain. Loyalists think the arrangement could weaken their British identity and last night’s demonstrations highlight the strength of feeling.

With the Brexit issue looming large, Johnson held talks yesterday with the US president, Joe Biden, but the prime minister played down reports of disagreements between the pair on Ireland. Johnson said Biden was a “breath of fresh air” and that the discussions had been “very good”. Johnson will hold meetings with counterparts from Japan, Canada and Italy today before a formal group session. In the evening they will dine on Cornish delicacies including spiced melon gazpacho with coconut, roasted Cornish turbot caught off Newquay and a selection of Cornish cheeses.

* * *

Easing getting harder – Boris Johnson is under intense pressure not to lift the final coronavirus restrictions in 10 days’ time as planned because of the surge in cases of the Delta variant first discovered in India. As the prime minister prepares to consider the latest data this weekend, a leading public health expert said a complete lifting of measures risked cases and hospitalisations rising further. Jim McManus, the vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said “patience now will pay off in the long run. But Johnson faces equally strong calls to go ahead with the final easing. His predecessor Theresa May said last night that it was “incomprehensible” that Britain could be slower to completely open its economy given its successful vaccination rollout.

Britain will give 100m Covid vaccines to poorer countries within the next year to help make the pandemic recovery sustainable. And in an effort to encourage domestic tourism, ministers are launching a new rail pass to allow cheaper travel across the UK on certain days. Children may be allowed to travel free and there could be vouchers for popular attractions. But the government will have to spend £40bn to fix NHS waiting times that have built up during the pandemic, according to unpublished estimates from Downing Street. Europe risks an autumn surge in Covid cases despite a drop in infections, the WHO warned.

* * *

‘Inside No 10’ – Dominic Cummings has promised to reveal more details of his time in Downing Street in a paid-for newsletter. Boris Johnson’s former top adviser, who has accused the health secretary, Matt Hancock, of incompetence in handling the pandemic, said he would dish up “more recondite stuff on the media, Westminster, ‘inside No 10’, how did we get Brexit done in 2019, the 2019 election etc”. It came after Hancock promised to reveal internal advice that he said he followed over discharging people from hospitals into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic.

* * *

Honours even – A push to strip the word “empire” from the British honours system has been launched by dozens of activists who have accepted gongs but object to them being named after imperialism. They include Victor Adebowale, the chair of the NHS Confederation, who accepted a CBE in 2000; John Amaechi, a British-American former NBA player, and Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu, a pioneering nurse.

* * *

Capitol breach – The head of the FBI has told US lawmakers that the bureau considers the 6 January Capitol attack an act of “domestic terrorism” and suggested that “serious charges” were still to come in its continuing criminal investigation. Testifying before Congress, Christopher Wray also rubbished Donald Trump’s claims about a stolen presidential election.

* * *

Blinking massive – Astronomers have spotted a giant blinking star, 100 times the size of the sun, near the heart of the Milky Way. Over a few hundred days, the enormous star, which lies more than 25,000 light years away, dimmed by 97% and then slowly returned to its former brightness. Scientists call such variable stars “what is this” or “WIT” objects. Their latest discovery bears the name VVV-WIT-08.

Today in Focus podcast: will GB News succeed?

To its critics, it is a British Fox News; to its creators, it is a vital correction to a liberal, London-centric media. Can Andrew Neil’s upstart news channel change the face of British broadcasting?

Lunchtime read: Fast & Furious x 8: “My brain has liquefied”

JUNE_London : Tim Jonze who will be bingeing the first 8 Fast and Furious movies in a row. (Photography by Graeme Robertson)
Tim Jonze during his Fast & Furious epic. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Ahead of the latest instalment of the petrolhead franchise Fast & Furious, newbie Tim Jonze attempts to watch all eight previous editions in 24 hours. The first one draws him in – “terrible” but he wants more – but by the time No 8 comes around he’s no longer really watching, merely enduring. “My brain has liquefied.”


Euro 2020 gets under way today when Turkey and Italy clash in Rome, kicking off four weeks of football across 11 countries. The Italian capital is ready but fans are struggling to get into the mood. Our writers predict the winners, losers and breakout stars from the 24 teams and 622 players. Barbora Krejcikova saved a match point to defeat Maria Sakkari and set up a French Open final against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Tamara Zidansek. Novak Djokovic must not go overboard with emotion when he meets Rafael Nadal for the ninth time at Roland Garros today with a place in the final at stake.

Ollie Robinson has pulled out of playing for Sussex this weekend citing the need for a break as the ECB continues to deliberate over the offensive tweets that plunged the sport into a crisis. Zak Crawley, Joe Root and James Bracey were all removed cheaply on day one of the second Test against New Zealand, but Rory Burns (81) and Dan Lawrence (67 not out) ensured England will begin day two on 258 for seven. Team GB’s athletes will not face medal targets for the Tokyo Olympics after it was revealed that its experts do not have enough data to make accurate forecasts. Sprinter Dina Asher-Smith raced home for her second Diamond League win of the season, while Laura Muir’s second-fastest 1500m earned her third place. And Manchester United have had an opening bid of £67m for Jadon Sancho turned down by Borussia Dortmund.


Asian markets have reacted cautiously to US inflation figures that showed prices rising at their fastest rate since 2008. Many investors fear higher prices will oblige the US Federal Reserve to begin phasing out its massive monetary stimulus program and raising interest rates. The FTSE100 is set for a modest lift this morning. Sterling is up at $1.418 and €1.634.

The papers

“Bitter standoff over Brexit sours start of G7 summit” says the Guardian, but it is the pictures of Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie Symonds, and son, Wilfred, playing on the beach with Jill Biden that provide the main picture for several other papers. The Mail headline is “Oh baby, what a love-in!”, while the Express has “PM: Biden is a breath of fresh air!”. It’s also the main image for the Times but it leads with “PM ponders four-week delay before end of curbs”, and the Telegraph, which splashes with “May: global Britain is closed for business”.

The i has “Pfizer jab shortage warning hits hopes for 21 June”, and that’s also a lead for the Scotsman: “Yousaf calls for UK action on Pfizer supply ‘squeeze’”. The Mirror focuses on Matt Hancock’s appearance before MPs: “How’s he got the nerve to say that?”. The FT lead is “Challenge for Fed as US consumer prices rise at fastest rate since 2008”, while the Sun by contrast splashes with an open letter to England’s Euro 2020 footballers: “Dear lads”, it says.

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