PM makes ‘screeching U-turn’ on attending COP27 – and all his campaign pledges are under review

Politics

Rishi Sunak has reversed his decision to skip the COP27 climate summit in Egypt next week – and all his campaign pledges are now under review.

Bowing to pressure from environmental campaigners and MPs today, the prime minister he would attend COP27 as there is “no long-term prosperity without action on climate change, there is no energy security without investing in renewables”.

Hours later, his official spokeswoman then said the pledges the PM made during the summer leadership contest are under review as they were made a few months ago, when the context was “somewhat different”.

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Secretaries of state are to be consulted on the specifics of their departments.

There was no endpoint for the review, the spokeswoman said.

The admission from Downing Street is likely to fuel fresh calls for a general election, which opposition parties have been demanding since the collapse of Boris Johnson’s government in July.

More on Rishi Sunak

Mr Sunak initially said he was not going to head to the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh due to “other pressing domestic commitments”.

But the PM faced a raft of criticism, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accusing him of displaying a “failure of leadership” and Greenpeace UK saying he was not taking climate change “seriously enough”.

Within days, Downing Street changed course, saying the PM’s attendance was “under review”, depending on progress around preparation for the economic statement, set for 17 November.

Mr Sunak announced his attendance the morning after former prime minister Mr Johnson told Sky News he would be going.

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Johnson: ‘I am going to COP27’

More U-turns?

On the potential for further U-turns by reviewing the PM’s campaign pledges, his spokeswoman said: “We are looking at all the campaign pledges and we are looking at whether it is the right time to take them forward.

“We need to take some time to make sure what is deliverable and what is possible, and engaging with stakeholders and with the relevant secretaries of state as well.

“Obviously, those are pledges that were made a few months ago now and the context is somewhat different, obviously, economically.

“We need to look again.”

Mr Sunak has already dropped his plan to fine patients £10 for missing GP appointments.

Downing Street said the PM had listened to GPs and NHS leaders “and agreed now is not the time to take this policy forward”.

This morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper also cast doubt on the high-speed rail link connecting Manchester and Leeds, saying the government is looking at “all the options” ahead of expected spending cuts in the autumn statement later this month.

Key pledges made by Mr Sunak in the leadership contest include:

  • Cut the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 16p by the end of the next parliament
  • Scrap or reform all EU legislation by the next election
  • Continue the Rwanda deportation scheme, alongside a 10-point plan to tackle immigration
  • Block housing on the greenbelt
  • Rail improvements in the North, including HS2 trains up to Leeds
  • Commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050

‘Embarrassing misstep on the world stage’

Opposition parties were quick to mock the “screeching U-turn” over COP27 and claimed the PM is only going because he has been “shamed” into doing so.

Sir Keir has accused Mr Sunak of acting “in the name of political management” rather than the national interest, adding: “Caving in to criticism is not leadership.”

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, said: “The prime minister has been shamed into going to COP27 by the torrent of disbelief that he would fail to turn up.

“He is going to avoid embarrassment, not to provide leadership.”

The Liberal Democrat’s climate change spokeswoman, Wera Hobhouse, claimed the environment is “simply not a priority” for Mr Sunak’s new government and that he is “only going after being embarrassed by Boris Johnson’s attendance”.

And Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP, said: “Glad to see Sunak’s screeching U-turn on COP27, but what an embarrassing misstep on the world stage.

“Let this be a lesson to him – climate leadership matters.

“Now he urgently needs to increase UK ambition on emission reduction targets & pay what we owe to global climate funds.”

On Friday, and in the face of growing pressure, Mr Sunak defended his decision not to go to COP27, saying he wanted to focus on the UK’s “depressing” economic challenges.

A No 10 source told Sky News Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have made “good progress” on the autumn statement after working on it over the weekend and this week.

What could have spurred such a sudden change of heart?

It is the PM’s first notable U-turn.

A week since Downing Street confirmed Rishi Sunak would skip the climate conference because of “pressing domestic commitments”; today he said he must attend to “deliver on Glasgow’s legacy”.

What could have spurred such a sudden change of heart?

Pressure had been building on Rishi Sunak on this all week, as the list of attendees names grew – Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz among the heads of state reportedly going to the summit – the PM’s green credentials were under scrutiny.

His decision to miss the conference was seen in the context of having just removed COP26 president Alok Sharma and climate minister Graham Stuart from cabinet, the former reportedly saying he was “disappointed” Rishi Sunak was not planning to go to Egypt.

While some urged the PM to hold his nerve, not to blow with the wind of political events, his allies will say this shows a willingness to listen and adapt.

On Monday Downing Street said Mr Sunak’s attendance was “under review”, today a No 10 source confirmed the PM was attending after making “good progress with the chancellor on Autumn statement over the weekend and this week”.

What can’t have helped was the prospect of Boris Johnson using the summit as an opportunity to show climate leadership, filling the perceived void left by Mr Sunak .

The former PM confirmed his attendance in Egypt yesterday, adding, in what some saw as a direct swipe at Mr Sunak, that he wanted to go even though it may be “unfashionable” to talk about the climate conference.

The summit will run from 6-18 November, but the key day for world leaders is Monday, when high-level talks are scheduled, and US President Joe Biden is expected to attend.

Conservative MP Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, said he is “delighted” by the news, after previously saying he was “disappointed” the PM had decided not to go.

Chris Skidmore, who is chairing the government’s review into Net Zero, tweeted: “Extremely good news Rishi Sunak will continue to champion the UK’s climate leadership and COP26 legacy with Alok Sharma.

“Looking forward to also attending COP27 to highlight how the Net Zero Review is an opportunity to better deliver greater prosperity and economic growth.”

The UK chaired the previous climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow last year.

World leaders made a series of climate pledges, culminating in an agreement to strengthen emissions-cutting targets for 2030 by the end of next year.

Ending and reversing deforestation, cutting methane emissions and the journey to net zero were all agreed to at the crucial Glasgow climate summit last year which lasted for two weeks.

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