UK leaders criticised for being ‘almost completely absent’ from security conference

PUBLISHED: 09:29 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 17 February 2020

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, meets with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. (Michael Dalder/Pool via AP)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, meets with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. (Michael Dalder/Pool via AP)

Senior UK politicians have been criticised for failing to attend the Munich Security Conference - thought to be one of the largest gatherings of political leaders.

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The conference was attended by notable politicians including Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Mike Pompeo, Sergey Lavrov, and Nancy Pelosi, as well as former prime minister Tony Blair.

Representatives from World Food Programme, World Bank, World Health Organisation and International Rescue and Facebook were also in attendance.

But representatives from the UK government were absent for most of the event, with reports that Boris Johnson turned down one of the "most important" slots of the event.

Angus Lapsley, a diplomat within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was left to represent Ben Wallace in a meeting of defence ministers to discuss fighting the so-called Islamic State.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood was present as the chair of the Defence Select Committee, but did not attend to represent the government or Downing Street.

James Cleverly did make an apeparance, but was a last-minute attendee, after junior foreign minister Andrew Murrison was sacked.

The UK's national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill did make a brief appearance, interrupting his family holiday to take part on the last day.

"It's great you're here but it would have been even greater if others from your government were present," said one of the hosts as he arrived.

"As a former Ambassador to the Court of St James, I am saddened by the absence of senior ministers of Her Majesty's Government at @MunSecConf this year", tweeted Wolfgang Ischinger, chair of the conference.

"We respect people of Britain to make their own decisions, but…I would hope it isn't an indication of the diminution to multilateralism," said Pelosi at the conference.

Former UK national security adviser Peter Ricketts told the Financial Times it was a "mistake" not to send senior ministers. "This has been the forum where world leaders discuss their strategy and we should be there, if our ambition is to be seen as an active and engaged in the world after Brexit," Lord Ricketts said. "I fear it will look like Britain is off the air."

"The one nation that is nearly completely absent from [Munich] is the UK," tweeted former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt. "Very strange. Ministers were supposed to come, but then everyone withdrew. Has 'Global Britain' gone fully introvert?"


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