It was never going to be a quiet summer in Carbis Bay. The cream sands and windswept cliffs of the cloistered spot near St Ives have always been popular with the UK’s bucket-and-spade brigade, and this year more than most after a year starved of holidays and dwindling opportunities for foreign travel.
But there’s more to this week’s gridlock on the narrow, twisting lanes of the Penwith Peninsula than a tourist season on post-pandemic steroids. Tomorrow, Joe Biden is rolling into town in his armoured limousine, the mini-Beast. The official armoured limousine used by US president Joe Biden when Air Force One is too big to park was deemed too unwieldly for Cornwall’s narrow roads.
Biden, his wife Jill and their entourage are expected to touchdown at Newquay airport today ahead of tomorrow’s 47th G7 summit, which takes place over the next three days at the £6,000-a-night clifftop Carbis Bay Hotel near St Ives. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau is expected to fly in for the event, as are German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and other key diplomats.
The venue has drawn worldwide attention for its unusually quaint location, but there’ll be more to this year’s summit than seal-spotting and cream tea etiquette (jam then cream, according to the locals). Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting this year’s conference, has said the event is about building “a greener, more prosperous future”, yet the hotel is just miles from some of the most deprived areas in the country and many locals are far from delighted about the arrival of the world’s leaders and their entourages.
According to nearby residents, one school in St Ives is closing for three days because of the road closures and fears have even been raised that patients are being discharged from a nearby hospital in Truro in case space is needed for attendees or protesters from the G7.
So what’s on the agenda and how will the diplomatic WAGs and HABS - Angela Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, will also be attending - spend their downtime? From officers digging up drains to stash security cameras in to which VIPs are on the guest list, this is your G7 crib sheet.
All eyes on Cornwall
Over the last 45 years, the G7 has met in Venice, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, London, Toronto and America’s Camp David - so why a sleepy Cornish fishing village with poor transport links and no security infrastructure?
For Boris Johnson, it’s personal. The prime minister’s grandmother, Irene Williams, used to holiday in the bay and his father Stanley was born in the local hospital. No 10 has confirmed he is meeting president Biden for bilateral talks at “an undisclosed location in Cornwall” this afternoon - is the meeting part of a bid to seduce his US companion with old family folklore and homemade pasties?
The hotel is roughly a seven-hour drive from London and there are suggestions that Johnson deliberately chose a difficult location to ward off potential protesters from groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who have already promised an “annoying” presence at the summit. The nearby town of Falmouth will serve as a media centre for the event while Falmouth’s National Maritime Museum and St Ives’ Tregenna Castle hotel are host venues.
They will remain closed to the public, though Devon and Cornwall’s police chief has insisted everything is being done to ensure both town centres will remain open (hopefully the locals won’t be as unwelcoming as they were in France this week, where Macron was slapped as he greeted bystanders on a visit ahead of the summit).
All seven G7 leaders are expected to stay at the Tregenna Castle Resort, which offers a ‘Poldark Apartment’ for £360 a night, while 4,000 rooms at almost 200 venues across Devon and Cornwall have been booked for their entourages and event staff.
Meanwhile the four-star Carbis Bay Hotel, where the conference takes place, sits on a 125-acre estate and features an award-winning restaurant, spa and access to a sandy bay where dolphins are regularly spotted. Rooms cost up to £6,000 a night, for its seafront lodges with a hot tub, and it’s the only British hotel with access to a Blue Flag certified beach.
Top secret travel
Carbis Bay is a seven-hour drive from London but many of the G7 contingent are expected to fly – Newquay Airport is just 50 minutes from London Gatwick and there is a chartered helicopter service from there to Carbis Bay, though Biden’s helicopter Marine Force One is reportedly already in place.
According to local newspapers, it was delivered by a US military plane on Sunday ready to transport the president from Air Force One to his face-to-face meeting with Johnson this afternoon.
As for the getting around the local area, reports have suggested the president’s famous armoured limousine, ‘The Beast’, is too wide for Cornwall’s roads. He is expected to bring a smaller “mini-Beast” with him instead, though his drivers might still want to plan ahead.
St Ives is known for its narrow, twisting lanes and the area is notorious for its lack of parking - lucky for guests, then, that most local roads will be closed off (even residents are being asked to provide a proof of address to access their homes).
A high (and low) security operation
Erecting presidential-worthy security is no mean feat on the Penwith Peninsula. According to locals, preparations have been stepping up for weeks, with streets fenced off by huge rings of steel, large security bollards blocking off lanes to the coastal path, and security guards positioned every 10 feet along the road to St Ives. Police officers and dogs have even been spotted inspecting drains, manhole covers and lamp posts in a bid to tighten security along the rugged coastline.
More than 100 police dogs are expected to be on duty during the three day summit and in the last few days, more than 6,000 police officers and thousands of troops have been shipped in from across the UK to help with the operation, with lodgings and even a pop-up Tesco set up in nearby fields.
A large naval patrol ship has been positioned in St Ives Bay to keep guard on the water and high-security surveillance drones are in place, though local police are concerned about them being damaged by the area’s notoriously aggressive seagulls. Things not to say include remarking that this could have been avoided if they had picked somewhere without seagulls.
If suggested plans are to go by, officers might have more to worry about at ground level. Extinction Rebellion, which caused chaos on London’s roads during their 11 days of protests in 2019, says it expects some 1,000 protesters to descend on St Ives for the three day conference and though they’ve been assigned specific protest zones, organisers are already threatening to find ways to be “annoying” (though probably rather less so than if Donald Trump was still in office).
Another 1,000 water-born protesters from environmental group Surfers Against Sewage are also plotting to take to the seas around Carbis Bay to protest against the ocean and climate emergency in the middle of the global conference on Saturday. If 511 attend, they will set a new world record.
The guest list
Leaders from all seven G7 nations are expected to join Boris Johnson at this weekend’s summit: US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Also in attendance will be President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as well as representatives from non-member countries invited as guests.
These include include Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be attending virtually due to the current severity of the pandemic in India.
From climate change to Covid recovery
The world’s media is waiting for the moment it can snap that money-shot of Johnson and Biden tucking into a pasty, but what’s actually on the political agenda? In many ways, Cornwall provides a fitting backdrop for a summit that aims to tackle the biggest issues of the day such as climate change and inequality.
The UK’s south-western tip is widely regarded the centre of its green technology sector (it is home to the country’s first geothermal power plant and lithium extraction site) and is one of the most unequal areas in Britain, with millionaire second home-owners living alongside some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.
The prime minister has said Cornwall is “the perfect location for such a crucial summit” thanks to its rich history of tin and copper mines and their role in the Industrial Revolution, while its 400 miles of coastline offer an ideal setting to discuss the global challenge of climate change. Organisers have pledged this year’s to be the first carbon-neutral G7 summit and Johnson is expected to urge other leaders to join the UK in setting the target of reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Cornwall also plans to build the UK’s first space port, delivering the country’s first satellite launch from Newquay Airport in 2022, so is a fitting backdrop for talks about the future of the skies.
But top of the agenda will be how to “build back better after Covid”, says Johnson. When the summit was announced, Cornwall had one of the lowest coronavirus rates in the country, and topics are expected to include countries’ financial recoveries, ensuring that less developed nations have access to the vaccine, and building a stronger global health system to protect from future pandemics.
Cornwall has been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. One in five jobs in the area rely on tourism and the government has said it believes hosting the event in Carbis Bay will help to boost local businesses, particularly the hospitality sector.
“In my dreams, BoJo and Biden will come in for a pint - stranger things have happened,” David Upton, landlord of the Cornish Arms in St Ives, told reporters this week, while political hacks on Twitter are holding out hope that Johnson and Biden’s pre-summit meeting will take place over a pasty at Poldhu Beach Cafe on The Lizard, away from the main media frenzy.
But among locals, the reaction is a mix of joy and concern. Many have complained about world leaders being allowed to fly into their home county for the summit and potentially cause a spike in Covid rates, having not been allowed to see their own loved ones for months. Others have criticised the pop-up Tesco built for security staff, saying it’ll stop them spending in the local economy, while many residents are facing road and school closures.
Locals living near Falmouth’s media centre have described recent weeks as a “nightmare”, with feelings of being caged inside their homes and “massive” levels of noise pollution as the town prepares for the onslaught of VIP arrivals.
“There seems to be one rule for them and another for us,” one resident, Heidi Chesterfield, told the FT last week. But not everyone is unhappy. “Still,” added the owner of a vegetarian cafe near Carbis Bay Hotel. “At least no one is going to get burgled [this] week.”
WAGs on tour
According to reports, she and the other G7 partners will received handmade ‘Atlantic’ blankets from nearby Perranporth, and insiders say the prime minister’s new wife has drawn up an itinerary of Cornwall’s beauty spots - she is expected to show off the best of Poldark country, after scenes for the fifth series of the BBC drama were filmed on the hotel’s beach.
Previous summits have included spousal visits to art galleries, restaurants and wine tours, so Mrs Johnson’s tour could include trips to Penzance, the Tate in St Ives, Barbara Hepworth’s haven of a sculpture garden, and Bernard Leach’s pottery studio nearby.
With the forecast set to reach highs of 20 degrees, some hiking could also be on the agenda, with many of the area’s coastal paths closed off to the public and the walk from St Ives from Carbis Bay offering spectacular ocean views across to Godrevy lighthouse, said to have inspired Virginia Woolf.
If Mrs Johnson’s itinerary wears them out, Carbis Bay also offers plenty of opportunities for down-time. The hotel features candlelit treatment rooms with fluffy robes, herbal tea and Ruinart champagne, and one is even set up for couples - might the Trudeau’s choose to book in for a couples’ massage to get over the jetlag? The surf-loving Canadian PM might also look to check out the waves at Porthkidney Sands.
At 33, Carrie Johnson will be the youngest of the G7 spouses and is expected to adopt her favourite boho chic look from a sustainable designer in keeping with the summit’s green focus. Brigitte Macron bucked the dress-and-heels trend when she wore white skinny jeans and a casual red jumper at the 2017 summit, while Sophie Trudeau wowed crowds in a bright, bubblegum-pink frock in 2019.
Carrie isn’t the only newbie. Other G7 first-timers include the Japanese prime minister’s wife, Mariko Suga, the Italian prime minister’s wife, Serena Cappello, and US First Lady Jill Biden, who’s scheduled to fly to London with her husband after the event to meet the Queen at Windsor Castle.
By then, at least, they should have had plenty of time to master the jam and cream.