Rishi Sunak has defended his decision to become the first UK prime minister in a decade to skip the annual United Nations leaders’ summit.
The Prime Minister blamed “pressures on my diary” and insisted he has been “incredibly engaged on international affairs” following criticism over the snub.
Mr Sunak will miss discussions on preventing future pandemics and tackling the climate crisis by skipping the UN General Assembly (Unga) in New York later this month.
Critics have said he is failing to show leadership on the world stage and is pursuing an “isolationist foreign policy”.
But Mr Sunak insisted he had made the “right choice” as he defended the decision while speaking to journalists travelling with him to the G20 leaders’ summit in India.
“I’m right here, right now, talking extensively to G20 leaders and invited partners. And then in a couple of weeks, I’ll be at the European Political Community Summit in Grenada talking to European leaders as well,” he said.
“And just given all the other pressures on my diary and the need to get on and keep delivering for the British people, it felt like the right choice to make.
“But I don’t think anyone can say that I haven’t been incredibly engaged on international affairs since I became Prime Minister.”
15 years ago, #G20 leaders came together for the first time to restore global growth after the financial crisis.
We meet at a time of enormous challenges – the world is looking to the G20 once again to provide leadership.
Together I believe we can address these challenges. pic.twitter.com/RFnry53YAf
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) September 9, 2023
He is instead sending his deputy, Oliver Dowden, as David Cameron did with Sir Nick Clegg, as the last prime minister to miss the conference in 2013.
Boris Johnson attended Unga twice to make speeches on the world stage as PM, as did Liz Truss during her fleeting tenure in No 10.
After Mr Sunak’s decision not to attend was announced last month, more than 100 aid and development leaders wrote to him urging him to turn up to “show leadership on the global stage”.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond – the UK network for international development organisations – said Britain appeared to have “stepped back from leadership on globally agreed goals”.
Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has said the snub would “mark a low ebb of the Conservatives’ isolationist foreign policy”.
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, accused Mr Sunak of “trashing the UKs reputation of climate leadership, just like he has trashed our nation’s clean power resources”.