'Shocking betrayal': UK climate minister goes ‘awol’ from Cop28 to attend Rwanda vote

Climate minister Graham Stuart pictured ahead of a cabinet meeting (archive). Credit: PA

The UK's climate minister has been described as going 'awol' as he left the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai during critical final negotiations to vote on the government’s Rwanda Bill.

Graham Stuart will arrive back in the UK to vote on what is seen as a crucial test of Rishi Sunak’s leadership as prime minister, Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday.

He will then return to Dubai for the end of the summit.

As many as 40 Tory MPs are believed to be prepared to abstain or vote against the Rwanda Bill, arguing that it does not go far enough in preventing people from stopping themselves being deported through legal action.

NGOs said the UK has gone “awol” at the very time it is needed, accusing the government of letting down the millions of people who are suffering because of climate change.

Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner, Rachel Kennerley who is in Dubai, told ITV News: “It’s astounding that the minister responsible for delivering climate action is deserting COP28 with crucial negotiations hanging in the balance.

“This starkly highlights the government's priorities and that it's prepared to sacrifice people on the frontlines of the climate crisis at home and globally for short term political gain.

“With the UK’s 2030 climate target to cut emissions by two thirds seriously off track, and Rishi Sunak’s pledge to ‘max out’ North Sea gas and oil, this move strikes another blow to this government’s crumbling international climate credibility.”

Hannah Bond, Co-Director Policy Advocacy and Programmes for ActionAid said: "As world leaders are locked in intense negotiations to discuss the existential threat posed by climate disaster, the departure of Minister Stuart is yet a further slap in the face to countries urging major polluters like the UK to act.

"In a shocking betrayal of trust as COP wraps up, the prime minister seems happier to fight the culture wars and not climate change," she told ITV News.

ITV News Political Reporter Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe analyses the last minute efforts that have been undertaken to secure support for the prime minister's Bill

Mr Stuart previously said he was proud to have persuaded the Cop presidency to allow parliamentarians such as himself to have a more significant role in the talks and his departure is likely to be seen as a forfeiture of the UK’s attempts to be a climate leader.

Number 10 confirmed Mr Stuart is returning to attend Parliament, adding: “Ministers have a number of roles, the negotiations continue and he will return to Cop.”

A government spokesperson said: “There will continue to be full official representation on the ground at the summit, including by Lord Benyon at ministerial level."

“Minister Stuart will continue to be the lead UK minister for negotiations and remains in constant contact with the UK lead climate negotiator and Lord Benyon, with any final decisions agreed with him.”

Asked about the carbon emissions from the flights, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “This government is not anti-flying.

“We don’t lecture the public to that regard. The most important thing is the outcomes of Cop, which minister Stuart is obviously leading for the UK on.”

Secretary of State for climate Claire Coutinho left the conference in the early stages, placing Mr Stuart in charge of the UK delegation.

Francesca Rhodes, senior climate and gender policy adviser for CARE International UK, said: “If the reports are accurate, it is staggering that the UK government has no ministers attending the final critical days of Cop28.

“These negotiations will decide the fate of millions of people facing floods, fires and famine due to the climate crisis.

“The UK has played a productive role in the talks so far but leaving early is simply shameful.

"Time and again, wealthy countries have let down low-income countries.

“The latest text was deeply disappointing and does not keep 1.5C alive. When the UK should be standing up for marginalised communities, including women and girls, Rishi Sunak’s government has gone awol.”

COP28 is at risk of finishing today without a deal as anger grows over a 'weak and watered down' draft agreement that one charity described as a 'dog's dinner', ITV News Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports from Dubai

Delegates at Cop28 are awaiting the publication of the next draft version of the final agreement, with the deadline having already passed this morning.

The previous version published on Monday made many countries and NGOs furious for excluding a commitment to phase out fossil fuel use, suggesting instead that countries “could” do so within an undefined time.

Chiara Liguori, Oxfam’s senior climate change policy advisor, said: “There can be no more tragic outcome for UK climate diplomacy than this – flying home from talks to avert a climate catastrophe at the most critical moment in an attempt to salvage a cruel and impractical policy.”

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