Power Play: Hipkins' fraught coronation trip buoyed by sausage rolls

3:34 pm on 8 May 2023
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave Prime Minister Chris Hipkins a tray of sausage rolls in London at No. 10 Downing Street.

Prime Ministers Chris Hipkins and Rishi Sunak, of New Zealand and the United Kingdom, laugh over a plate of sausage rolls. Photo: Peter Livingstone

Power Play - Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will be travelling back to New Zealand feeling grateful for sausage rolls.

In a trip to the United Kingdom dominated by domestic distractions, the pastries gave some reprieve and prompted something unexpected - increased international profile.

Hipkins travelled to the King's Coronation with next to none. In fact, one foreign staffer involved with his visit admitted having to Google who he was when they learned the New Zealand prime minister was visiting.

The boost in name recognition was largely thanks to King Charles and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: Both had trays of sausage rolls prepared for Hipkins. The gift giving was so unusual (and a bit silly) the story was picked up by the British press, despite it likely being one the busiest weeks in the UK this year.

It has by no means made Hipkins a household name in the UK, but the New Zealand delegation was pleased with the unexpected recognition, especially given the rest of his first major foray on the world stage was overshadowed by domestic drama.

As he flew into London, news broke Meka Whaitiri was leaving the Labour Party to join Te Pāti Māori. Hipkins first learned his now former minister was defecting when he touched down in the UK.

The scandal, unsurprisingly, created a sense of frustration in the prime minister's delegation.

Hipkins would go on to face questions about Whaitiri and his government's treatment of Māori MPs almost every day from both domestic and international media.

UK High Commissioner Phil Goff's faux pas at a gathering of New Zealand's Coronation delegation] prompted further questions about the government's treatment of Māori.

Goff forgot to open the event with a karakia and went on to say no one in the room had experienced a coronation before, despite the presence of Kīngi Tūheitia, crowned in 2006.

Hipkins used similar language when describing the significance of King Charles' Coronation.

A spokesperson for Kīngi Tūheitia, Ngira Simmonds, told those gathered at the High Commission they felt "belittled" by the government.

"We honour these prestigious and honourable officers of our nation time and time again, but our government does not return that favour to us," Simmonds said.

Hipkins described the situation as a "regrettable mistake" and said the government must do better at celebrating the Māori-Crown relationship.

While the confrontation was not on the same scale as being blindsided by a minister, Hipkins was again forced to answer questions about an avoidable distraction. He'd much rather be talking about New Zealand's Free Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. An entry into force date for the agreement was confirmed during Hipkins' visit.

"It is the nature of the job, I guess. You're the prime minister wherever in the world that you are," Hipkins said.

The prime minister will have a few more opportunities to represent New Zealand on the world stage before the election. He will travel to Europe for the NATO leaders' summit in July, where he will also be pushing to secure an entry into force date for the FTA with the European Union. Missions to Papua New Guinea and China are also on the cards.

Domestic distractions are likely to follow him on those trips, too, and he can't always rely on there being a silver lining in the form of a tray of sausage rolls.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins holds sausage rolls - a well-known favourite of his - which had been made specially for his meeting with King Charles at Buckingham Palace.

Hipkins with the two remaining sausage rolls from the batch made specially for his meeting at Buckingham Palace and gifted to him by the King ahead of the Coronation. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

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