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Rishi Sunak Is Likely To Attend COP27 Climate Summit Despite Saying He Was Too Busy

Rishi Sunak in Glasgow last year (Alamy)

3 min read

Rishi Sunak is now expected to go to next week's COP27 climate change summit in Egypt after initially saying he would not attend because he had too much to do tackling crises in the UK.

Sunak had originally claimed he would not join world leaders, including Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron, at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, only to suggest this week that he could decide to attend after all.

On Monday his spokesperson said his attendance was "dependent" on whether he and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had made enough progress on their plans to plug the country's financial blackhole, which will be set out in an Autumn Statement on 17 November.

The spokesperson repeated that position on Tuesday.

But PoliticsHome understands that Sunak is now expected to go to the climate change summit, which gets underway with a meeting of world leaders next Monday. His attendance would also open the door to King Charles, who had "unanimously agreed" with No 10 that he would not attend the summit

A Whitehall source said there had "definitely been some movement" on Sunak's proposed attendance in recent days.  

While senior government figures including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and outgoing COP President Alok Sharma are due to attend the summit, PoliticsHome understands there has been concern within government that Sunak not attending would reflect badly on the country's global image if the UK Prime Minister was visibly absent from meetings with other world leaders.

Last weekend, Sharma told the Sunday Times he was "pretty disappointed" that Sunak was planning to stay in the UK to focus on domestic issues. 

“I understand that he’s got a huge in-tray of domestic issues that has to be dealt with," he said.

"But I would say that going to COP27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders.

"And I think it does send a signal – if the prime minister was to go – about our renewed commitment to the issue.”

Sharma, who will use his attendance at the summit to hand the COP presidency to Egypt, warned that one of the reasons why the Australian Conservatives lost the election to the Labor Party earlier this year was "people didn’t feel they took this issue seriously enough”.

Sunak's decision upon entering No 10 last week to remove Sharma and Climate Minister Graham Stuart from Cabinet have also fuelled claims from critics that he is not taking climate change seriously enough.

Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, has put his political rival Sunak under more pressure to attend after telling Sky News that he was going to the summit. Johnson, who considered challenging Sunak in the race to succeed Liz Truss in No 10, said tonight he was "very happy to go" having been invited by Egypt.

Speaking on Monday morning, Environment Minister Mark Spencer seemingly hinted that the prime minister was considering changing his mind about attending COP, saying it had "yet to be decided" which members of the government would go to Egypt next week.

"The prime minister has a huge inbox," he told Sky News. "He’s come into office, he’s got an inbox which is full to the brim. Clearly, he wants to concentrate on the financial statement and that’s what he’s doing.

“But if he’s able to get through all of that, COP is very important," he said.

"It’s very important to the government, it’s important to our future, so we’ll send out senior ministers, but that’s yet to be decided who’s going to go.”

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