Sunak considers becoming first PM to miss world leader gathering in a decade

Rishi Sunak is considering becoming the first prime minister in a decade to skip the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, The Telegraph can reveal.

Mr Sunak has yet to confirm his attendance at the UN General Assembly – which has been a regular fixture for all his immediate predecessors – next month.

The Prime Minister is considering choosing instead to focus on driving progress on his five priorities and preparing for the annual Conservative Party conference.

The conference, which takes place in early October, will be Mr Sunak’s first as the party’s leader and is seen in Downing Street as a key moment to project his vision and election approach.

A wider autumn reset is being planned, which is expected to include a reshuffle of the Cabinet and an increasing focus on dividing lines with Labour as the 2024 election looms.

A source familiar with UK planning for the UN gathering said: “It has to fit in with a whole load of other things Rishi’s doing. Nothing’s nailed down yet.”

If the Prime Minister does not attend the days of talks and speeches in New York, there is sure to be criticism from some quarters about his degree of engagement with the international community.

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister last October, Mr Sunak made headlines when he indicated that he would not attend the Cop27 UN climate change conference.

After a backlash and days of uncertainty about whether he would attend, he did eventually go to the summit in Egypt.

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said: “Rishi Sunak becoming the first Prime Minister to dodge the UN General Assembly in a decade would mark a low ebb of the Conservative Party’s isolationist foreign policy.”

A Downing Street source said: “We will outline the Prime Minister’s travel arrangements in the usual way.”

The UN General Assembly has been a mainstay in the annual calendar of successive prime ministers. Last year, Liz truss attended days after becoming prime minister.

Boris Johnson attended in 2019 and 2021 and gave a speech via video cam from Downing Street in 2020 when the summit was made virtual because of Covid.

Theresa May attended in every year of her premiership, giving speeches in New York in 2016, 2017 and 2018. David Cameron attended in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, but not 2013 – meaning the last time a prime minister skipped the summit was a decade ago.

The gathering usually sees each national leader give a speech in the main auditorium at the UN headquarters, which is on the east side of Manhattan.

Mr Sunak’s diary is looking unusually packed in September, and he is visiting India for the G20 summit early that month.

The Tory conference the following month will be an important moment in Mr Sunak’s attempts to keep his a party united and convince MPs that he is able to lead them to an unexpected election victory.

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