Rishi Sunak could U-turn on his decision to skip a crunch climate summit if he feels sufficient progress has been made in planning for his highly anticipated autumn budget, No 10 has confirmed.
The Prime Minister last week insisted he must focus on the “depressing domestic challenges” rather than go to the Cop27 conference in Egypt, drawing widespread criticism, including from within the Tory ranks.
But following reports this could change, No 10 confirmed on Monday that the position was “under review”.
The PM’s official spokesman said Mr Sunak’s attendance in Sharm El-Sheikh was dependent on preparations for the autumn budget, due on November 17.
“As we’ve said, the Prime Minister is focused on pressing domestic issues, most significantly preparing for the autumn statement, so any attendance at Cop would depend on progress on preparation for that fiscal event, and that work is ongoing,” he said.
“The Prime Minister fully recognises the importance of the Cop summit and is fully committed to addressing climate change.”
The spokesman said the PM believes the public would “rightly” want him to focus on issues at home, particularly on “restoring fiscal credibility” and delivering a budget that “works for the British people”.
As “substantial progress” is being made on that, he said the position on Cop27 is being kept “under review”.
Downing Street also suggested the public judges the Government on “outcomes”, not “vibes”, when grilled on the Cop26 President and climate minister losing their seats around the Cabinet table.
“I think, frankly, the public don’t judge us on the sort of vibes, I think they judge us on our outcomes,” the PM’s spokesman said.
Parliament’s cross-party environment group wrote to the Prime Minister on Monday, calling on him to attend the summit in Egypt.
The group, which includes backbench Conservative MPs, urged Mr Sunak to “join other world leaders” and “demonstrate global leadership on climate and nature” both at Cop27 and the Cop15 biodiversity summit in Montreal.
They added: “We hope that, as Prime Minister, you will use your power to support environmental politics which improve the economy whilst enhancing the environment at home and abroad.
“The decisions your Government takes will have a noticeable impact on the lives of people across the country, and indeed our entire planet, for generations to come.”
Friends of the Earth said Mr Sunak was “right” to review his position but insisted “showing up is not enough”.
“The Prime Minister is right to reconsider his decision not to attend the climate summit,” energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said.
“If Rishi Sunak wants to be taken seriously on this issue, he should attend these vital talks.
“But showing up is not enough – Sunak’s Government must do far more to demonstrate its commitment to building a fossil fuel-free future.”
The Green Party also called on Mr Sunak to show “global leadership” by making the trip to Egypt, warning this year’s talks are “more important than ever”.
“The UN says that only an urgent transformation of society and our economy can avoid disastrous climate impacts,” co-leader Adrian Ramsay said.
“If our Government rises to this challenge, we can show global leadership and create a better society at the same time.”
The Government’s climate tsar Alok Sharma had said he was “disappointed” by the decision not to attend the Cop27 summit, while Tory former chancellor George Osborne asked why Mr Sunak would “trash” the party’s record on the environment.
With US President Joe Biden expected to attend, and reports suggesting Mr Sunak’s arch-rival Boris Johnson could also go, the Prime Minister will now review his own plans.
Earlier, Government minister Mark Spencer told LBC the possibility of Mr Johnson going was not a “consideration” for the PM, who will be “looking at how much he’s got in his inbox”.
“But I think the fact that Boris is thinking of going is a demonstration of how seriously the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government takes these things,” he added.
Mr Spencer told Sky News he would like to see the Prime Minister go to Cop27 “if he’s got time” but “he’ll make that call and I’m sure it’ll be the right one”.
Labour accused Mr Sunak of “dithering” over the issue, claiming that if he does make the trip, it will be to “avoid embarrassment” rather than to provide leadership.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “Last Friday his Environment Secretary said Rishi Sunak wasn’t going because Cop27 wasn’t a big summit.
“Now after a storm of criticism, her deputy says he might go if he can find the time.
“A dithering Prime Minister who cannot even decide whether he is going to a major environmental summit cannot provide the leadership our country needs.
“What’s clear now is that if he turns up, it won’t be to provide leadership but to avoid embarrassment.”