Former prime minister David Cameron has rejected an offer from Boris Johnson to return to international politics in a role leading the UK’s preparations for this year’s UN climate summit.
The current PM asked Mr Cameron to be the president of the COP26 summit being held in Glasgow later this year.
But Mr Cameron said the position should be filled by a Government minister and also said he was focused on other commitments, including a major charity role.
According to the Times, former Tory leader Lord Hague was also sounded out for the presidency but turned it down.
Mr Cameron said: “It was an honour to be asked to do that job and I’m very grateful to have been asked.
“But I think it’s best in these situations if you have a Government minister doing the job; you then have one line of command rather than, perhaps, two people doing the same thing.”
Since leaving Downing Street, Mr Cameron has had a series of lucrative media and speaking engagements and is also the president of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Speaking to the BBC, he said there are “a lot of things I have already agreed to do this year, not least the work I do for Alzheimer’s Research UK, so I thought it was important that I carried on with that work”.
“But I wish the Government well, I wish this climate change conference well, because it’s absolutely vital.
“I’m sure that there will be a Government minister, or someone, who will be able to do the job and do it very well. The Government has my backing as they go forward.”
Asked about his relationship with Mr Johnson, Mr Cameron declined to answer.
The Government’s failure to secure a high-profile name to lead the COP26 preparations comes after Claire O’Neill was sacked from the role and responded with a scathing attack on the Prime Minister.
The Government said the post would be a ministerial role in future.
In an apparent swipe at the axed summit president, a Downing Street source said: “We think it should be a ministerial role going forward.
“One of the reasons that we think it should be a ministerial role is it’s someone who will be a big hitter and able to handle themselves on the international stage.”
Mr Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed over the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.
Mr Corbyn quoted Ms O’Neill’s words in the Commons, arguing that “there has been a huge lack of leadership and engagement from this Government”.
Responding, Mr Johnson said: “If you look at what this Government is achieving and already has achieved on climate change, it is quite phenomenal.”
Labour suggested that former leader Ed Miliband – an ex-climate change secretary – would be a suitable candidate for the vacant COP26 leadership role.
“Ed Miliband is certainly someone who has a strong record and would be an entirely suitable person,” Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said.
“The issue is not exactly who should take on the role, but that it’s somebody with credibility. The performance we have seen in the last day or two over this subject is just a reflection of the fact that Boris Johnson is not serious about the climate crisis.”
The UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November, are the most important since the Paris Agreement to curb global warming was secured in 2015.
Countries are expected to deliver more ambitious domestic plans for cutting greenhouse gases by 2030, as current proposals are not enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises.
Pressure is also on countries to set out long-term plans for cutting emissions, with the science now clear that the world must reduce greenhouse gases to zero in a matter of decades to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The run-up to the talks will require a major diplomatic effort from the UK to secure ambitious climate action from countries – at a time when Britain is also negotiating trade agreements with the EU and other nations.
To mark the launch of COP26, the Government announced a consultation on bringing forward a planned ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 to 2035 – and earlier if feasible.
The ban will also include hybrid vehicles for the first time.
"If the UK is to lead the global zero emissions agenda, we need a competitive marketplace and a competitive business environment to encourage manufacturers to sell and build here. A date without a plan will merely destroy value today"@MikeHawesSMMT https://t.co/zmGBk5ZTDK pic.twitter.com/dq5zfGRyQc— SMMT (@SMMT) February 4, 2020
But as figures released on Wednesday showed demand for new cars fell by 7.3% last month, the automotive industry hit out at the plan.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Consumer confidence is not returning to the market and will not be helped by Government’s decision to add further confusion and instability by moving the goalposts on the end of sale of internal combustion engine cars.”