Brown's G20 deal runs into trouble

Memo about "tier two" countries adds to worries about US doubts over a deal

Gordon Brown's hopes of hammering out a detailed rescue plan for the global economy are fading after Washington played down the chances of reaching a "specific commitment" at next month's G20 summit.

The Government also faced embarrassment yesterday after a leaked Whitehall document suggested ministers regarded seven of the participants at the London conference on 2 April as "second tier" countries.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, who is hosting a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Sussex this weekend, acknowledged that divisions remained between the 20 participants.

Mr Brown will today hold potentially awkward talks with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is sceptical over the need for a further large injection of cash to combat recession. The French government has also rejected such a move.

The growing list of problems facing the Prime Minister were underlined when the White House appeared to write off the prospect of achieving a concrete deal at the summit. President Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, predicted: "We are not going to negotiate some specific economic percentage or commitment."

Britain has been pressing for a co-ordinated plan to revive the world economy through higher state spending and tax cuts to boost consumer demand. It is also calling for tough new rules to regulate the global banking system and for a crackdown on offshore tax havens.

Ministers have pinned high hopes on a show of international unity at the summit – followed by the Budget on 22 April – providing a desperately needed boost to Mr Brown's standing with the voters. But the problems of persuading the leaders of the biggest economies to sign up to anything more than an anodyne statement have become apparent as time runs out before the summit.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman tried to lower expectations yesterday of the outcome of the G20 meeting. He said: "We have always made clear the main objective is to demonstrate that the world is coming together to deal with the common challenges that we face."

The spokesman said any agreement would not be "overly prescriptive" and it would be up to individual countries to decide how they implemented terms.

Mr Darling told the BBC that the London summit was "part of a process". He said: "There is no quick fix, there is no overnight solution to all this. If you get 20 people sitting in a room there are bound to be differences of view. We have an opportunity now to start a process quickly that will mean the world will get through this problem far more quickly than would otherwise be the case."

He insisted the differences between participating nations were not as great as suggested and added: "If we don't work together and if we don't get agreement, the pain of a downturn or recession will be experienced for longer."

The G20 preparations met a further setback yesterday with the leak of a confidential Foreign Office memo issued to PR companies. It said that Britain should concentrate lobbying efforts on 11 "priority countries" – the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, India, China, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and Saudi Arabia – as well as the European Union.

Seven other participants – Canada, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Australia and Argentina – were described as "tier two countries". William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "The downgrading of some participants before they even set foot in London sends completely the wrong message."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the memo was not acted upon. She added: "This list in no way represents a hierarchy of our political relations with those states."

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