Boris Johnson ally accused of 'cosying up' to Brazilian government as the Amazon burns

PUBLISHED: 15:08 23 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:08 23 August 2019

Conor Burns has been accused of 'cosying up' to Jair Bolsonaro's hard-right government as the Amazon rainforest burns. Picture: Hannah Kay/PA Archive/PA Images

Conor Burns has been accused of 'cosying up' to Jair Bolsonaro's hard-right government as the Amazon rainforest burns. Picture: Hannah Kay/PA Archive/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

Labour ministers have written to the prime minister demanding he get tough on the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, after one of his allies was slated for 'cosying up' to the Brazilian government.

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Rebecca Long-Bailey and several other MPs called on Johnson to "immediately tell president Bolsonaro that his reckless destruction of the Amazon has to stop".

Labour's Barry Gardiner accused trade minister Conor Burns of "cosying up" to pro-deforestation ministers in Brazil while on government business, and said he should instead have been calling on the country's right-wing leadership to do "everything they can to protect the rainforest".

The government responded that Burns' had "raised the UK's commitment to environmental protection" at meetings with the Brazilian government and had offered the UK's help in transitioning to an environmentally sustainable economy.

The calls come amid international outcry against the record number of wildfires across the rainforest this year, which have increased by 84%. Environmental agencies have pointed the finger at the hard-right Bolsonaro for the destruction.

But Burns has been spotted in social media images drinking champagne with Brazilian minister Marcos Troyjo, who has backed Bolsonaro's policy of deforestation.

The Tory MP for Bournemouth West called Troyjo "superb" after meeting him to discuss "increasing trade and prosperity" between Britain and Brazil.

Shadow trade secretary Gardiner said: "While Bolsonaro lets agribusinesses burn the Amazon, this week a UK government minister has been busy cosying up to the Brazilian president's officials.

"Instead of posing for photographs with far-right Brazilian politicians, ministers should be calling on Brazil to do everything they can to protect the rainforest.

"The government must insist that Brazil honours environmental clauses in existing trade agreements and fulfils their commitments under the Paris Agreement."

In Long-Bailey's letter, which was also signed by Emily Thornberry, Gardiner, Sue Hayman, Danielle Rowley and Alan Whitehead, Labour urged Johnson to introduce "tough measures" to prevent UK companies from "aiding and abetting the destruction of the Amazon".

"Prime minister, the rainforests can't wait - and neither can the hundreds of millions of people threatened by climate change," wrote the MPs.

"You must immediately tell president Bolsonaro that his reckless destruction of the Amazon has to stop.

"Government ministers should also be honest about how our country is complicit in this catastrophe. The government must immediately introduce tough measures to stop UK companies from aiding and abetting the destruction of the Amazon.

"At the G7 this weekend, the UK can play a leading role by demanding that other wealthy countries do the same."

Amnesty International has blamed the Brazilian government for the fires, which have escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.

There has been a public outcry, including from politicians, environmental agencies and celebrities, about the record number of forest fires in Brazil this summer.

A government spokesman said: "We are deeply saddened by the increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest. The impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats will be felt around the world.

"The UK remains committed to protecting the world's rainforests and will continue to do so in Brazil through our International Climate Finance programmes.

"In meetings with the Brazilian government, minister Conor Burns raised the UK's commitment to environmental protection and offered support to Brazil in the transition to renewable energy and a lower carbon economy."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The prime minister is deeply concerned by the increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest and the impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats.

"The effect of these fires will be felt around the world which is why we need international action to protect the world's rainforests.

"The UK will continue to support projects in Brazil to do this, and the prime minister will use the G7 to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change together."

Burns responded in a tweet: "I am proud to serve in a government which has set the most ambitious agenda to reduce carbon emissions in history. Sharing the technologies that protect the planet in which we are global leaders will be a key part of our trade agenda."

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