Johnson heads to UN where Brexit will still dominate the agenda

Peter Walker Political correspondent
Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Boris Johnson heads off this weekend for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations summit in New York where, despite an official focus on subjects including the environment and Iran, Brexit seems likely to yet again dominate the prime minister’s agenda.

He is scheduled to holds talks with Donald Tusk, the European council president at the UN general assembly (UNGA), as well as having joint discussions with Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel, and a meeting with Ireland’s Leo Varadkar.

Other bilateral meetings for Johnson include with Donald Trump, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, the New Zealand PM, Jacinda Ardern, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the comedian-turned-politician who became Ukraine’s president in April, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

With the trip already expected to be potentially interrupted by the supreme court ruling on whether Johnson was lawful in suspending parliament, his meetings with EU leaders will face intense scrutiny over signs of any emerging Brexit compromise.

It will be a first chance for Tusk and others to interrogate Johnson personally on the draft ideas for a possible solution to resolving a hard Irish border outlined by the UK government earlier this week, amid signs of continued EU scepticism on the issue.

Among a series of speeches and remarks due to be made by the PM, he will use a breakfast meeting of US and UK businesses to, as a senior government official put it, “make the pitch for why investing in Britain post-Brexit is a great thing to do”.

Related: Boris Johnson has to deliver a Brexit deal. And now he may be on track to do it | Simon Jenkins

Amid efforts to play down the significance of the UNGA meetings on the departure process, the official called the talks “part of the ongoing Brexit talks”, to be viewed in conjunction with continuing discussions between officials.

“What this gives the PM an opportunity to do is talk to them at leader level about what some of our proposals are,” he said. “But at the same time we’re under no illusions that there is an awful lot of work still to do, and you should view the discussions at UNGA as part of an ongoing process.”

The official added: “Obviously the PM will be able to talk through the ideas which we have for replacing the backstop, and if the leaders are asking the PM questions I’m sure he’ll be very happy to talk about what our thinking is.”

In brief comments by Johnson released in advance of the trip, for which he will arrive on Sunday and leave on Wednesday, the PM said he would discuss “three crucial issues” at the gathering.

“First, how Britain can work with our European and American allies on peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said. “Second, how science and new technologies can help the world deal with climate change and the threats to biodiversity. Third, how post-Brexit Britain will be a better place to invest in and live in.”

Among ministers also attending will be Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, and the international development secretary, Alok Sharma.

Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, will also be at the conference, but not in any official No 10 capacity – she is attending as part of her work with an environmental charity.

The discussions on the Middle East will focus heavily on a potential international response to drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which the US has blamed on Iran. In return, Iran’s foreign minister has said any attack on his country would result in “all-out war”.

Johnson will also make his set-piece speech to the general assembly on Tuesday evening local time, billed as taking in the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence, as well as “British values”.