Boris Johnson deals with scandal amid climate conference – Community News
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Boris Johnson deals with scandal amid climate conference

GLASGOW, Scotland — Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed back to the United Nations climate summit on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to persuade countries to make more meaningful commitments to curb global warming. But his rousing return to the world stage was all but overshadowed by an explosive scandal over the lucrative business dealings of lawmakers from his conservative party.

Mr Johnson is not the only global leader whose global ambitions have been overrun by domestic distractions. Some, like President Biden, were crippled by political fighting at home. Others, such as President Xi Jinping of China, failed to show up as they struggled with the pandemic and other challenges.

But as a presenter, Johnson’s split-screen moment has been mostly unforgiving: Instead of receiving credit, as he’d hoped, for his climate change diplomacy, he’s endured sternly unflattering revelations about Conservative MPs. The most recent outrage was a report that a former Attorney General was doing legal work for the British Virgin Islands from his office in Westminster, in violation of the rules of the House of Commons.

On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson did his best to change the subject.

“We have to pull out all the stops if we want to do what we came here for,” he said at a press conference for the last two days of the climate conference, known as COP26. Mr Johnson insisted a milestone agreement was within reach, although he warned several countries were failing to deliver on necessary commitments.

“Are you helping us seize that opportunity or are you standing in the way?” he said. “The risk of slipping back would be an absolute disaster.”

Even in Glasgow, Mr Johnson was asked as many questions about the scandal as he was about his efforts to fight climate change. He was asked if it was appropriate for lawmakers to put their private interests ahead of their voters (he said no) and if he would apologize for the damage to the country’s reputation (he didn’t). On stage, trying to project statesmanship to a global audience, he found himself defending Britain’s honor instead.

“I honestly believe that the UK is not a corrupt country by any means,” said Mr Johnson, “nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt.”

The latest politician under scrutiny for moonlighting is Geoffrey Cox, a lawyer defending the British Virgin Islands in a corruption investigation launched by the British government. While Mr Cox has not been barred from exercising the law, the Times of London published a video suggesting he advised his clients while he paused to vote in parliament.

The opposition Labor Party’s deputy head Angela Rayner said she referred Mr Cox’s case to Parliament’s standards commissioner, calling it an “outrageous, brutal breach of the rules”.

In a statement, Mr Cox denied any wrongdoing and said it should be up to his constituents to decide “whether to vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who continues to practice that profession.”

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Johnson defended lawmakers’ ability to work as lawyers, doctors or firefighters, but added: “The most important thing is that those who break the rules should be investigated and punished.”

For the prime minister, it was the latest in a web of ethical traps that have ensnared him and his party, from lucrative no-bid contracts for businesses during the pandemic to questions about whether a party donor paid to buy the Downing Street apartment of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister (Mr Johnson later collected the bill himself).

With a majority of 79 seats in parliament, Mr Johnson’s position is secure for the time being. But analysts said he risked alienating members of his party with a crisis he had largely caused himself. It stemmed from his administration’s misguided attempt last week to protect another Conservative lawmaker, Owen Paterson, by pressuring Tory lawmakers to vote to rewrite Parliament’s ethics rules.

When that provoked a storm of outrage from the opposition and in the media, the government was forced to turn back and Mr. Paterson resigned. The spotlight quickly swung to other conservative lawmakers, a few of whom make more than $1 million a year consulting contracts and other business deals.

“The question is how this is enforced,” said Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government, a research institute in London. “The current system will work if the government doesn’t dismantle it.”

The scandal is taking its toll on Johnson’s popularity, which has fallen to its lowest level since his landslide victory in 2019. In a recent survey by the firm Ipsos Mori, the Labor Party beat the Conservative Party by one percentage point, 36 percent to 35 percent. . “Just say sorry for the mess, Prime Minister,” declared the normally loyal tabloid Daily Express.

“The fact that this goes beyond Johnson, and Johnson himself is involved, is really problematic for him,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “It allows the opposition to establish this pattern of behavior for both the leader and his troops.”

It’s also a great distraction at a time when Mr Johnson could have worked foreign officials in Glasgow. Rather than stay for the conference, the Prime Minister left Scotland last week, just two days after it started. Downing Street said he had postponed his return visit by a few days and was lobbying unruly leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, over the phone.

After being criticized last week for flying to London on a private jet, this time Johnson took the train to Glasgow. But critics said his on-again, off-again engagement was typical of his approach in the months leading up to the meeting. Mr Johnson left most of the diplomatic heavy lifting to Alok Sharma, a former Secretary of State whom he appointed as COP26 president.

“From the start, the Prime Minister has been lacking in attention,” said Tom Burke, a former government adviser and chairman of E3G, an environmental research group. “He should have gone to some of the critical countries himself.”

Indeed, when the most notable announcement came on Wednesday, it was not Mr Johnson who made it. The US and China said they had agreed to do more to cut emissions this decade, the culmination of some 30 meetings between the two countries, according to John Kerry, Mr Biden’s climate envoy.

Mr Johnson is not the only leader facing distraction. Biden arrived in Glasgow while Democrats were still bickering over the shape of his climate legislation. As he worked to spread a message of renewed US engagement, experts said other countries understandably harbored doubts about his ability to deliver.

“The US influence on the global stage is being diminished by uncertainty, among other world leaders, about whether President Biden can get the money to fund his increased ambition through Congress,” said John P. Holdren, a former scientific adviser to the United States. President Barack Obama.

mr. Biden has at least reached Glasgow. Mr Xi of China, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil skipped the meeting, which climate experts say reduced the chances of their countries making a groundbreaking commitment even if they sent enough delegations to Scotland.

While the political storms in London weren’t much of a topic in the corridors or meeting rooms in Glasgow, Mr. Burke that they would confirm the prejudices of some of the other leaders – that Mr. Johnson is not a reliable counterpart. That could reduce their incentive to make more far-reaching climate promises.

“My feeling is that he is seen as a lightweight, and the other leaders don’t get the joke,” said Mr. burke.

Stephen Castle contributed from London.

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