Rishi launches lacklustre Sharm offensive as battle of the PMs hits Egypt

Words no Tory prime minister ever wants to hear: “I’m here in a purely supportive, foot soldier role.” When said by Boris Johnson. He has never knowingly done anything supportive for a colleague unless there’s an upside for him, let alone a deadly rival who only a few weeks ago refused a deal to allow the Convict back into Downing Street.

So no wonder Rishi Sunak reconsidered his earlier decision not to travel to Cop27 when he heard that Boris had already secured an all-expenses paid – Boris wouldn’t dream of forking out for himself, natch – trip to Egypt. Rish! just couldn’t take the risk that Johnson would find some way to upstage him. Some world leaders may be so confused at the speed with which the UK churns through prime ministers that they imagine Johnson is still in charge. What goes around, comes around.

As it turned out, though, Sunak would probably have been better off following his first instincts and staying away. He’s already made clear where his priorities lay and he wasn’t much interested in the climate crisis. The sooner the Maldives were under water the happier he’d be. As for the polar bears, why couldn’t they just learn how to swim? So no amount of Rish! turning up in Sharm el-Sheikh and getting all loved up about the environment was going to fool anyone. The damage was already done. And there was always the danger of making a bad situation worse.

It was a bedraggled Johnson – he looked as if he had just crawled out of bed and his tie, only held together by the stains, hung down somewhere close to his mid-thigh – who was first out the blocks in the battle of the two PMs with an early morning Q&A session. Cop26 at Glasgow had been a brilliant success, he insisted. It had been the best Cop ever. All thanks to him. Me. Me. Me. He just couldn’t understand why all the promises that had been made there had not been kept. The Convict complaining about other people not keeping their promises was a collector’s item. Never change, Boris. Never change.

Rish! spent much of the day in an existential meltdown. Still struggling to understand the primal urge that had driven him to come to Egypt. The conflict between the need to be seen and having nothing of value to do or say. Then again, Sunak wasn’t entirely alone.

As the leaders’ speeches rolled on, the contradiction at the heart of Cop27 became ever more apparent. The climate crisis may be the most important issue on the global agenda, but most of the speakers were devoid of passion and emotion. As if it was all quite boring and no one was really bothered. Or expected much to change. Like the whole thing was a charade. A Potemkin conference in the desert.

Not that anyone was in a hurry to hear what Rish! had to say. As he’d only accepted his invitation to attend at the last minute, he wasn’t on the list of official speakers and had to be squeezed in on a provisional basis. And even then the organisers thought better of it.

He had originally been designated the 6pm (local time) slot but no one was that interested in a person who couldn’t be bothered to even pretend to be interested. To play the game. So they bumped him by just under two hours into the graveyard slot. He could always talk just to himself. As an experiment. To see if he could convince himself.

He couldn’t. He tried varying his tone to sound as if he really meant it. But he didn’t really. He just gave his usual bare minimum, “something must be done” climate change speech that he always gives. The one in which he tries to sound as if he understands and cares. But fails on both counts.

Except this time he didn’t mention that his daughters were really committed to climate change and he was doing it all for them. So touching. All he did was admit that the Tories had nearly bankrupted the UK so he wasn’t going to be able to contribute any more than the bare minimum already pledged. The applause was barely applause. Just a smattering of people waking up with a jolt when he had finished.

To fill in time before making his keynote, three-minute speech, Rish! had squeezed in a fireside chat about forests – as if to add insult to injury, having upheld Liz Truss’s ban on King Charles coming to the conference, he got him to record an introductory message – and a couple of bilateral meetings with Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni. He sounded a great deal more animated about sending migrants back in punctured small boats than he ever had about floods in Pakistan. A question of priorities, I guess.

Sunak also reluctantly – he had only intended to bring one reporter from a rightwing tabloid with him – gave a short interview with the BBC. Yes, it was great that Johnson was also in Egypt. So great that they had no intention of meeting one another there. In fact he was going out of his way to avoid him.

And yes, he did find Gavin Williamson’s texts abusive. But not so much he was going to do anything about them. Heaven no! The fact that he hadn’t sacked him was nothing to do with him being so weak he had promised Gav a cabinet post in return for his support. Because that would lack professionalism and accountability. He hadn’t sacked him because he was a compassionate Conservative. And someone who had already been sacked from the cabinet twice clearly deserved yet another chance. That was the right thing to do.

That was also why he had reappointed Suella Braverman as home secretary six days after she was fired. Because Leaky Sue was down on her luck and in distress. In a worse state than the asylum seekers she had cooped up at Manston. If people arriving in small boats had any dignity, any sense of empathy, they wouldn’t make the journey across the Channel. They would realise the suffering they were causing the home secretary who had to sign off on the bills to pay for their accommodation and stay put instead. Will no one spare a thought for her? So distraught she couldn’t even be bothered to turn up to answer an urgent question in the Commons.

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