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Japan , Reuters:In Japan, ostensibly to cover Prime Minister David Cameron’s talks with other G7 leaders, travelling reporters had other things on their minds — mainly next month’s vote on whether Britain should ditch its membership of the European Union.
With the June 23 vote looming, British “hacks” who had paid thousands of pounds to watch Cameron’s every move in Japan and to try to quiz him and his team on “Brexit”, were frustrated to be swept off to a Japanese dance and music show miles from the summit venue. Obsessed with one of the biggest events in modern British politics which was dominating the headlines at home, the disappointment of some in the press corps was palpable. “We usually get decent access to both the prime minister and his team,” one senior political journalist at a national newspaper, who declined to be named, grumbled. “This time we’ve got neither, it’s a bit of a joke.”
The situation was compounded by the fact that Cameron’s media team, determined to concentrate on the official agenda of the Group of Seven talks, lacked his head of communications, who had been seconded to the “In” Europe campaign. With his official spokeswoman also not able to be with him due to a personal commitment, Cameron was accompanied by less experienced press aides so the timing of the summit was less than ideal for both the prime minister and the journalists.
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Cameron, joined by close aides including Europe adviser Tom Scholar, sat in the front section of the plane for the private charter flight to Japan, separated by a curtain from the around 20 members of the national media accompanying him.
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Wearing a long-sleeved navy polo shirt, blue jeans and smart black shoes, and with his hands in his pockets, a seemingly relaxed Cameron greeted journalists and made small talk about whether people had managed to get much sleep. As the media gathered round, Cameron complimented a reporter from the anti-EU Express newspaper. When someone asked if he was trying to get the paper to do a U-turn on Brexit, Cameron joked: “That is the sort of high ambition I have for this summit.”
Yet after the flight, during which four of the five non-G7 questions he was asked were EU-related and he was prompted by an aide to mention his concerns about making sure people registered to vote, Brexit hardly featured again until the end of the two-day summit. Cameron’s media team seemed keen to avoid the subject and with the summit venue nearly an hour from the media centre, Cameron himself did not do his usual round of broadcast clips or interviews during the meeting.
Instead, they preferred to brief mainly on non-EU issues from tackling antimicrobial resistance to sending a warship to combat people- and arms-smuggling off Libya. A spokesman said Cameron had come to the summit totally focused on the G7 agenda, which did not formally include Brexit.
To keep the press pack occupied, as well as the Japanese traditional dance performance, there was also a trip to the sacred Ise-Jingu shrine G7 leaders had visited separately.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at his G7 news conference was asked about key Brexit campaigner ex-London mayor Boris Johnson, who like Cameron attended the elite Eton school and who has been tipped as a possible future premier. “It is time for him to come back to Brussels,” Juncker said of Johnson, who lived in Brussels while a journalist at the telegraph newspaper, “in order to check in Brussels if everything he is telling the British people is in line with reality – I do not think so.”