Boris Johnson's MP duties seem to have stopped him attending Pope Francis's climate change summit. Photos: Getty
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Has Boris Johnson snubbed the Pope?

The Mayor of London is missing a meeting of the world's mayors at the Vatican to discuss climate change with the Pope. Why?

The Pope has invited the world's mayors to a two-day meeting, beginning Tuesday this week, to discuss his new favourite subject: climate change.

Following his landmark encyclical on the environment last month, in which he warned us of “serious consequences for all” if humanity fails to act on climate change, Pope Francis has invited mayors of cities around the world to meet at the Vatican to discuss the fight against global warming.

There are over 60 attendees, including such high-profile figures as the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, and the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. The full list of attendees and programme is available here.

The mayor of London Boris Johnson was invited to attend, specifically to participate in a workshop on modern slavery and climate change, and a Symposium on Cities and Sustainable Development, at the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences on 21 and 22 July. But he isn't there, and nor has his office sent a GLA representative in his place.

A City Hall spokesperson explains his absence:

The Mayor was unable to attend the Vatican’s events this week due to diary constraints. He is however delighted that the Vatican is highlighting the issues of climate change and modern slavery, and congratulates Pope Francis on his initiatives in this area. Addressing the challenge of climate change is one of the Mayor’s key priorities and he has led the world in city-based efforts to reduce emissions, including his announcement of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone in central London to be introduced in 2020.

Although it is unclear what Johnson's diary constraints were specifically, he was present at the late Welfare Bill vote in parliament the night before the conference, in his capacity as Tory MP for Uxbridge. And an insider tells me he also has Commons commitments on Tuesday, the first day of the conference.

His non-attendance at the Vatican, depriving London of a representative at a global mayoral meeting about tackling climate change, suggests two things. The first is that climate change is not a priority (as the comment from his spokesperson denies). And the second is that his duties as an MP are clashing with his mayoral commitments, and he has been compelled to pursue the former over the latter, which will only add to the characterisation of Johnson by his detractors as a "part-time mayor".

The only UK delegates at the conference are the Bristol mayor George Ferguson, and the Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd.

Ferguson, known for his green credentials, spoke at the conference this afternoon about what Bristol is doing to reduce carbon emissions. He wouldn't comment on Johnson's absence, but is clearly aware of how useful an event like this can be, and urges all city mayors to join the conversation:

I regard it as a great honour for Bristol to have been invited to address this vitally important conference, hosted by the Pope at the Vatican. Cities are at the frontline of climate change in terms of both problems and solutions, and I implored all city leaders to unite on the related issues of poverty, modern slavery and climate change.

De Blasio has used the Vatican summit to make a pledge to cut New York carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.