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Boris apologises to Israeli minister at COP26

Karine Elharrar elbow bumping Boris Johnson
Karine Elharrar elbow bumping Boris Johnson Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised to Israel’s disabled energy minister yesterday, Tuesday November 2, after she was unable to attend the first day of COP26 because there was no suitable travel arrangements made to accommodate her wheelchair.

Karine Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, was waiting outside her Edinburgh hotel on Monday morning to be taken to the conference in Glasgow, but she was later told the only transport available was a shuttle bus which was not accessible for wheelchairs.

The other option given to the energy minister was to walk 50 miles to the event.

On Tuesday Johnson told Elharrar he was so sorry', and he 'gathered there was some confusion with the arrangements yesterday and I was very sorry about that'.

A second apology came from Environment Secretary George Eustice who said ‘something went wrong’ with the communication sorting out wheelchair access for the event.

But a spokesman from the Israeli Embassy in London stated country's delegation to the summit had 'communicated over the past several weeks all the details about the minister's requirements'.

Speaking to BBC News on Tuesday, Elharrar said the travel arrangements were ‘very easily’ today after she travelled to the conference by taxi, adding 'It was quite a different experience from yesterday.’

In a separate interview Ms Elharrar told Sky News 'it was terrible and very frustrating' when she could not get to the summit on Monday. 'I was coming to Cop26 to promote green energies and collaborations between Israel and other countries and what I was promoting was accessibility.

'It was a bad example on how the UN is preaching all the years for accessibility and then couldn't implement it at its own conference.'

Elharrar went to say Johnson apologised for the error, but she added: 'they think the primary responsibility was the UN because it is the host of the whole event'.

Mr Eustice told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'We deeply regret that incident. What would normally happen in this situation is that Israel would have communicated that they had that particular need for their minister.

'There was obviously something that went wrong in this instance and they weren't aware of that and so they hadn't made the right provisions at the particular entrance she was coming to. It's deeply regrettable and we've apologised and I know James Cleverly, my colleague in Government, is going to be meeting her later.'

Scottish Labour MSP, Pam Duncan-Glancy, the first permanent wheelchair user elected to Holyrood, called the mistake 'outrageous'.

She added: 'From travel to the conference in an inaccessible shuttle (like, seriously) to no one being able to direct to the accessible route, this is an epic planning failure.

We cannot have climate justice without social justice. They need to sort this ASAP.'        

A COP26 spokesperson said: 'This was a genuine mistake and we have apologised to Minister Elharrar-we look forward to her attendance at COP26 today.

'We remain committed to an inclusive event accessible to all and the venue was designed to facilitate that.

Elharrar said the incident had been 'a good experience to make sure the next UN conference will be accessible'.

She added: 'We can talk about accessibility and the rights of people with disabilities, but in life we need to implement all the conventions and all the regulations and that was an experience that showed that we need to pay attention to all the details everywhere. I am sure it will be different in the future.'

She wrote on Twitter: 'I came to COP26 to meet with my counterparts around the world and promote a common struggle in the climate crisis. Hopefully the lessons learned will be learned so that tomorrow green energy promotion, removal of barriers and energy efficiency will be the things I will deal with.'

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, Glasgow is hosting the 26th meeting – hence the title COP26.