Humza Yousaf Had 5 Unauthorised COP28 Meetings: Foreign Office


A political row has erupted after Scotland’s first minister met with five different foreign leaders during COP28 without a UK government official present.

According to official guidance, ministers of devolved governments must be accompanied by Foreign Office officials when meeting foreign heads of state during overseas visits.

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf breached the protocol during the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), according to Secretary of State Jack Alister.

Mr. Alister appeared before the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) on Monday and reported that there were “five different occasions where meetings happened with foreign ministers without an official.”

Mr. Jack told MPs that Mr. Yousaf had met with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, as well as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and acting Pakistani Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar.

“It’s not complicated, if there aren’t to be any sanctions, all the Scottish Government have to do is take Foreign Office officials to their meetings, that’s all we’re asking. [It] is incumbent on me and every other minister in the United Kingdom, and everyone else seems able to do it,” Mr. Jack said.

Pictures of Scotland’s first minister meeting with foreign leaders appeared on X, formerly known as Twitter.
In response, the UK government warned that “any further breaches of the protocol of ministerial meetings having a FCDO official present will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.”

Lord Cameron’s Letter

The warning was part of a letter sent by Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron to the Scottish Government on Sunday. It followed Mr. Yousaf’s meeting with Mr. Erdogan.

“We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish Government offices in UK Government posts,” Lord Cameron added in his letter.

Commenting on the letter, Mr. Jack said that he “supported it 100 percent.”

“There’s a very simple principle here, all ministers of the United Kingdom—irrespective of whether they’re ministers in a devolved administration or the UK government—when they’re overseas, when they meet ministers from foreign countries, they must have … an official, a civil servant, from the Foreign Office present to take notes,” Mr. Jack said.

The Scottish first minister discussed a number of issues during the meetings with foreign leaders, including climate change, renewable energy resources, and the “humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

Mr. Yousaf’s talks with the Turkish president appear to have particularly irked the UK government.

Mr. Jack described the Turkish leader as someone the Foreign Office “did not believe should be met.”

Mr. Erdogan’s critical stance towards Israel in the conflict with Hamas doesn’t align with Britain’s support of Tel Aviv’s right to defend itself. While Mr. Yousaf has long called for a ceasefire, the UK chose to abstain on a United Nations resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr. Yousaf, whose parents-in-law were in Gaza on a visit when the conflict erupted, got in touch with the Foreign Office in November. He called for a safe passage of civilians through the Rafah border. Mr. Yousaf’s relatives eventually managed to flee the conflict and arrive safely in Scotland.

The tension between Holyrood and Westminster was reflected in Mr. Yousaf’s response to Lord Cameron’s letter, which he described as “petty and misguided.”

“Scotland is the part of the UK, outside of London, that has attracted the most foreign direct investment for eight years in a row, that happens because the Scottish Government’s international engagement is valued [and]has impact,” he said.

He also suggested that the foreign secretary “should just pick up the phone” to resolve any issue, should it arise again.

Earlier this year, the then-Foreign Secretary James Cleverly sent a similar letter to the Scottish Government, after it failed to follow the protocol when meeting the Icelandic prime minister in August.