That new Johnson line is to launch himself into the public eye in the image of a global statesman. And so he will now be going to COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt.
This would be hardly unexpected, but the knives are beginning to come out for Rishi Sunak, just days into his job as Prime Minister. Not fully yet, a glimpse here, a glint there. But the sightings are clear. This would hardly be unexpected in Westminster politics, even in these early days. And it would not be unexpected at all that the one to watch out for is former prime minister Boris Johnson. Except that Boris Johnson is less a knife than perhaps a sword hanging over Rishi Sunak’s head.
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Boris Johnson, none other, has made that clear. He did that straight after he failed to get enough support from MPs to take on Rishi Sunak in the race for prime minister, even though he insisted publicly that he had opted out. His exit lines sounded an intended comeback: "I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid this is simply not the right time…I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024." He has launched himself now on the comeback trail in line with a plan he no doubt sees as promising and that Rishi Sunak doubtless should see as worrying.
That new Johnson line is to launch himself into the public eye in the image of a global statesman. And so he will now be going to COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt. As is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally – and awkwardly. It had been announced earlier that Rishi Sunak would go, then he announced he will not because he would be too tied up with working out a financial policy, and then again that he would go. This final call after it became known that Boris Johnson was going to the COP summit.
It would have been very awkward for Rishi Sunak to be missing at the summit and for Boris Johnson to be there. And now it will be awkward in a different way for both of them to be there. They will follow of course different protocols, but may not fall into very differing profiles. Boris Johnson is certain to get a fair degree of attention at the summit.
Johnson has been careful to stay vague why he is going to the COP summit, and what he would do there. "I was invited by the Egyptians," he told Sky News in an interview. And he said no more. That too he said only reluctantly. That interview, by previous agreement no doubt, was all about Ukraine, that high platform for Boris Johnson earlier on the world stage.
The interview was itself offered to the British public as an assertion that Johnson remains a world statesman and that a transfer from such a position to that of the Prime Minister of Britain should follow at some stage. He was asked if he would accept a formal role in Ukraine, perhaps as envoy. A thought Boris Johnson dismissed. Irrespective of not being the PM, he said "there are ways I can be useful".
He referred to a conversation "with a friend in Kyiv" and many will recall how often Boris Johnson has spoken of President Zelensky as a friend. He promised that he would "inevitably" go back to Kyiv. These are not the moves of a man in a hurry to go down in history as an ex-prime minister.
All this is seriously awkward for Rishi Sunak, for the former prime minister to push himself into a role where the present prime minister is seeking to play his appointed role on some of the biggest international issues of the day – Ukraine and the climate change summit. And Boris Johnson has carefully used the two together to play to his domestic audience in Britain.
The Ukraine war had brought higher energy bills. But this, he said, would be a time for the British people to "get off our dependence on Russian hydrocarbons and build for ourselves a more secure future." The way forward would be to "rely more on our own domestic production of renewable energy or indeed nuclear energy and have a totally different future".
Johnson offered a reminder of the role he played as prime minister at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. "It's become unfashionable to talk about it (but) it was a fantastic global success, we did a huge amount of good for the planet." And so in Egypt he said he will "talk a little about how I see things and how we see things in the UK."
That would be for a prime minister to do. As the Prime Minister no doubt will. As will another who sees himself as prime minister in waiting.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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