Boris Johnson has admitted for the first time that he is frustrated by his failure to reach his climate change goals at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
But the prime minister insisted he will never give up and pledged that the UK will work tirelessly with other countries to achieve a breakthrough over the next 12 months.
Mr Johnson delivered his candid verdict on the Glasgow conference in a foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City of London.
He also used the speech to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military advances on Europe’s eastern borders.
On climate change, the prime minister emphasised that the UK holds the COP presidency for another year and – using one of his now-familiar sporting metaphors – declared: “We are the world COP-holders for another year.”
He told his audience of business chiefs, diplomats and VIPs at the lavish event at the Guildhall: “We will push for more ambitious goals, stronger plans and better implementation – and so we further narrow that gap to 1.5 degrees.
“We will work with partners across the world. We will work tirelessly: we will never give in. This is Global Britain in action.
“And I know how frustrating it was – as we stood on the verge of agreeing to phase out coal – to see that commitment weakened.
“But I tell you this: I have been watching politics a long time now and I know when a tipping point is reached.
“The language does matter but whether you are talking about phasing down or phasing out, the day is now not far off when it will be as politically unacceptable, anywhere in the world, to open a new coal-fired power station as it now is to get on an aeroplane and light a cigar.”
Mr Johnson’s language at the Guildhall was less bullish than in his earlier statement in the House of Commons on Monday, when he told MPs that COP-26 had been a success and “the summit that proved the doubters and the cynics wrong”.
Elsewhere in his address at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, as he referenced the migrant crisis in Belarus and fears that Russia is waging a new cold war against Europe, Mr Johnson said the UK would stand by its allies and warned President Putin to remember what happened in the Second World War.
“When we say that we support the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine that is not because we want to be adversarial to Russia, or that we want in some way strategically to encircle or undermine that great country,” the prime minister said.
“And never let it be forgotten, in this season of remembrance, that it was Russian blood that enabled us to defeat Nazism.
“It is because we have a commitment to democracy and freedom that is shared now across the vast mass of the European continent.
“And when our Polish friends asked for our help to deal with a contrived crisis on their border with Belarus, we were quick to respond.
“And we hope that our friends may recognise that a choice is shortly coming between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability, let me put it that way.”
The Prime Minister’s Guildhall speech came after a dinner of blue cheese and basil panna cotta, sea bass, Irish beef and colcannon and chocolate orange torte.
Throughout his 25-minute speech Mr Johnson was hoarse and croaking, after a Downing Street news conference on COVID and a Commons statement on Cop-26.
But he ploughed on without noticeably taking any sips of water.
And, in keeping with tradition, he delivered his speech in white tie and tails, which some of those present suggested may have reminded him of his days in the Bullingdon Club.