Rishi Sunak could still attend the Cop27 climate change summit if he feels enough progress has been made on his autumn budget, Downing Street said on Monday.
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”.
It comes after a minister said Mr Sunak will fly to Cop27 if he can find time in his hectic schedule.
Food minister Mark Spencer made clear the Prime Minister now wants to attend the gathering of world leaders in the Red Sea resort. They are expected to include US president Joe Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Spencer told BBC Breakfast: “I’m sure if his diary allows he would want to go, but at this moment in time we don’t quite know whether he’s going to have time to do that.
“But rest assured there will be serious ministers out there and big hitters because the UK is very keen to play its part in dealing with the challenges we face in the environment globally.”
Mr Sunak’s inbox is “full to the brim,” he added, as the PM and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt draw up plans to plug a blackhole in Britain’s public finances estimated at £40 billion. He also faces an immigration crisis, with the appalling conditions at the Manston processing centre in Kent, thousands more migrants risking their lives trying to cross the Channel in unseaworthy boats, and criticism of his decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, six days after she was forced to quit over an email security breach.
Cost-of-living problems are set to worsen in winter and more than seven million people are on NHS waiting lists.
Just days ago, scientists warned in a United Nations report that there is now “no credible pathway” to keep the rise in global temperatures below the key threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. They slammed governments for “woefully inadequate” progress in cutting carbon emissions since the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last autumn.
The Egypt gathering, from Sunday until November 18, is not a target-setting summit but it is another chance for world leaders to step up efforts to speed up the battle against climate change.
The shift in Mr Sunak’s plans came after Alok Sharma, the president of Cop26, criticised him for choosing not to attend the Egypt meeting.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson is also believed to be considering going.
Baroness Parminter, who chairs the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, warned it would be a “failure of leadership” if Mr Sunak decided not to go to Cop27. Downing Street has advised against the King attending the summit. Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stressed that Cop27 is an opportunity to “showcase unity against an existential threat that we can only overcome through concerted action and effective implementation”.
The summit aims to build on the outcomes of Cop26 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve resilience and adaptation to “inevitable” impacts, and to deliver on commitments to finance climate action in developing countries.
Hopes are rising that Brazil may step up its battle against global warming, with better protection of rainforests, after former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beat Far-Right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential election.
Mr Sunak tweeted: “I look forward to working together on the issues that matter to the UK and Brazil, from growing the global economy to protecting the planet’s natural resources and promoting democratic values.” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer messaged: “This win must also be the start of a new era of global cooperation and action in the fight against climate change.”
But the Tory Party is split over whether Mr Sunak should attend the summit.
Several MPs including former culture secretary Nadine Dorries have said he should go, but others including Sir John Redwood have argued against it.