UN General Assembly: Rishi Sunak will skip a UN world leader event for the first time in a decade.

UN General Assembly: Rishi Sunak will skip a UN world leader event for the first time in a decade.

Rishi Sunak is set to break a decade-long tradition as the UK Prime Minister by not attending the UN General Assembly, even as non-governmental organizations call for his participation in an event focused on sustainable development.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will lead the British delegation at the annual gathering of global leaders in New York in September, as stated by Downing Street.

A spokesperson from 10 Downing Street highlighted the Prime Minister’s packed schedule for the upcoming season. This includes meetings with counterparts at the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi on September 9 and 10, as well as the Cop28 UN climate summit scheduled for November in Dubai.

It’s a rare occurrence for a contemporary British premier to miss the UN’s notable high-level general debate.

Previous prime ministers, including the short-lived Liz Truss, allocated time to travel to New York and deliver speeches on the international stage. The last instance of a UK leader not attending was in 2013 when David Cameron skipped the event.

Over a hundred leaders from aid and development organizations sent a letter to Rishi Sunak, urging him to attend the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) summit – a pivotal component of this year’s UN gathering. Held every four years, the SDG summit marks the halfway point towards the 2030 target for global advancements in the planet’s well-being and human life quality.

In the letter dated Friday, NGO leaders pressed the Prime Minister to “walk the talk” and exhibit leadership by translating commitments into actions, while also rebuilding the UK’s standing as a reliable partner to lower-income countries and global actors.

Stephanie Draper, CEO of Bond, the UK network for international development organizations, noted that Britain seemed to have retreated from its role in globally agreed goals. She emphasized that the upcoming UN SDG Summit provided an opportunity for the Prime Minister to demonstrate global leadership and rebuild the UK’s reputation as a dependable partner to lower-income countries.

Earlier this month, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, remarked that Rishi Sunak’s absence from the UN General Assembly would signal a low point in the Conservatives’ isolationist foreign policy.

Last year, the Prime Minister faced criticism for initially considering missing Cop27 in Egypt but later chose to attend.

A spokesperson from No10 stated that the UK delegation at the UN General Assembly High Level Week would be led by the Deputy Prime Minister, with the presence of the Foreign Secretary and other officials. Additionally, the Prime Minister is expected to engage with numerous world leaders in the coming weeks, emphasizing the Government’s priorities, including economic growth, curbing illegal migration, and supporting Ukraine.

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