King Charles has ‘other priorities’ than climate now, says environment minister

<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/AP

King Charles should not go to Cop27 and instead send Prince William in his place, an environment minister has said, after reports that Liz Truss intervened to stop the monarch attending.

Buckingham Palace confirmed that Charles will not be attending the international gathering in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, despite his longstanding and passionate commitment to environmental issues.

The Sunday Times reported that the decision not to go was taken after theprime minister raised objections during an audience with the monarch at the palace last month.

Mark Spencer, the new minister for fisheries and farming, said William should go instead as the King now has “other priorities”.

Spencer, speaking at a Conservative Environment Network event at the Conservative conference on Sunday said: “I’m not in charge of the King’s diary, luckily. He’s expressed a great deal of interest in the environment in the past, but I think in his new role, as the as the monarch is going to have a lot of other priorities, and I think as he said himself he’s up for others to take up that challenge.”

He said he thought Prince William should take up the mantle: “I’m sure the Prince of Wales will be a huge ambassador for the environment, moving forward.”

William has taken on some of the King’s work on the environment including work on rainforests and species conservation.

During the platinum jubilee celebrations in June, the new Prince of Wales delivered a speech after pictures of the planet were projected on to Buckingham Palace.

William said at the time: “As I watch those extraordinary images, it does make me think of all the monumental and pioneering work of so many visionary environmentalists that have gone before.

“I’m so proud that my grandfather and my father have been part of those efforts.”

Spencer’s ministerial colleague, levelling up secretary Simon Clarke, denied claims Truss ordered the King to stay away from the event in Egypt next month.

He said the decision had been mutually agreed by the government and the palace, telling Times Radio: “It’s been clear this is a decision that has been made consensually between the King and the government.

“That is a decision that has been made amicably, as far as I am aware, between the palace and the government. The suggestions this morning that he was ordered to stay away are simply not true.”

No 10 denied it earlier in the day, with a source said it is “ridiculous” to suggest that the prime minister “gives orders” to the monarch.

The monarch is a veteran campaigner on environmental issues, and it was expected he may attend the summit. He addressed the Cop26 summit in Glasgow the previous year, and the Prince of Wales spoke at the event, with the Queen also recording an opening address urging world leaders to take action on climate change.

However, a government source confirmed the pair “considered separately and then agreed jointly” that there might be “more suitable options” for Charles’s first overseas visit as monarch.

Clarke said: “I think it is very different when you are the host country for a major event like Cop to have the head of state involved as opposed to the head of state going to what is an event being hosted in Egypt.

“It is the normal course of matters that this would be handled by the government rather than by the monarchy.”

Some have speculated that this move by Truss to advise the monarch not to attend the event signals she may not be prioritising net zero commitments.

However, Spencer said the government was “committed to net zero” and that it understood the “huge economic opportunities” the policy has.

Despite not attending the event in person, it is understood that the King still hopes to be able to contribute to the conference in some way.

While Boris Johnson became an enthusiastic advocate for the cause of net zero, Truss is thought to be more sceptical of the green agenda, as she has announced plans to achieve growth by loosening environmental regulations and restarting fracking.