David Cameron marked his debut on the global stage with a warning to leaders of the world's most powerful countries that their regular summits have become "grand talking shops".
On the eve of his first G8 summit near Toronto today, the Prime Minister urged his fellow leaders to stop producing a raft of headline-grabbing small initiatives and instead to devote their energies to "big picture" problems such as the stalled talks on a global trade deal which have dragged on for nine years.
Aides denied he was "lecturing" more experienced world leaders. But in a departure from the style adopted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Mr Cameron promised to bring a more down-to-earth spirit to world leaders' meetings. "Too often these international summits fail to live up to the hype and to the promises made," he said. "A lot of money is spent laying them on. The calvacades roll into town. Good intentions are shared in productive talks. Then somehow those intentions seem rarely to come to fruition in real, tangible global action. And when we meet again a year later, we find things haven't really moved on."
Writing in Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper, Mr Cameron said the challenge for today's G8 meeting of world powers and the wider G20 talks this weekend was to be "more than just grand talking shops". He added: "If we want to make a difference, we need a tight focus on what we actually want to achieve, with leaders – including me – being willing to be held to account and made to live up to our promises. We need to show people that we can get results – by concentrating on key priorities and then driving them through relentlessly year after year."
But Mr Cameron risked upsetting EU leaders by saying that Britain would "go it alone" to reach trade deals with individual countries – such as one allowing British legal firms to operate in India. Because of the single European market, the European Commission is mandated to handle international trade negotiations on behalf of all 27 EU member states.
The Prime Minister called for "fresh thinking and renewed political leadership" to break the deadlock on trade but admitted progress would not be easy. He was "impatient for change" and said people around the world could not wait for negotiators to come to agreement. In the meantime, there could be bilateral deals between countries and trade barriers broken to help poor nations.
Mr Cameron appeared to side with Germany in its dispute with the United States after Barack Obama warned that countries which are cutting their budget deficits could put a global recovery at risk. Although he said countries should have the flexibility to take account of their own circumstances, Mr Cameron insisted: "I believe we must each start by setting out plans for getting our national finances under control."
Speaking during his flight to Canada, he denied the G20 was split over the approach to the global recovery. "This weekend isn't about a row about fiscal policy," he said. "We all agree about the need for fiscal consolidation. For me this G20 is about putting the world economy on an irreversible path to recovery." Mr Cameron praised Canada's deficit-reduction programme in the 1990s and said this week's Budget in Britain had showed how the country "will start to live within our means again". Like Canada, the coalition Government had made some "unpopular" but "unavoidable" decisions on tax rises and spending cuts to restore confidence.
Arriving in Halifax, Canada, last night, Mr Cameron was to visit the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier to pay tribute to British servicemen. Promising them a more supportive approach than the previous Labour government, he said: "I want a government that looks after you better and a country that values you more."Reuse content