UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would roll back some green energy policies while sustaining the country’s long-term carbon emission reduction target, a move that sparked a backlash among Tory MPs and created uncertainty for industry.
“We are committed to net zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally, but doing so in a better, more proportionate way,” Sunak said in a statement Tuesday, without providing specifics on what he would change.
Among the moves under consideration, Sunak is weighing deferring by five years to 2035 a ban on the sale of cars powered by diesel and petrol, the British term for gasoline, and weakening the phase out of gas boilers, according to a person familiar with the plan, who asked not to be identified as the government hasn’t yet made the decision public.
The policy shift, first reported by the BBC, is part of Sunak’s efforts to close a double-digit poll gap against the opposition Labour Party and respond to internal criticisms that he’s been too timid and insufficiently political as a leader.
But the move was met with an immediate angry response from senior figures within his own Conservative Party. Former cabinet minister Alok Sharma, who was previously Britain’s business and energy secretary and President of COP26, said the move “will not help economically or electorally.” Simon Clarke, another former cabinet minister, said the shift would “shatter” a pro-climate consensus in the UK.
A delay to the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would also be a blow to automakers investing in electric-vehicle production in Britain, because the prospect of the 2030 ban is set to markedly boost demand. Only last week BMW AG announced plans to invest £600 million ($744 million) into its factory in Oxford to make electric Minis, and as recently as July the cabinet minister Michael Gove said the 2030 ban was “immovable.”
Ed Miliband, Labour’s energy secretary, described Sunak’s new plans as a “complete farce” and described the British premier as “rattled, chaotic and out of his depth.”
The 🇬🇧 has been a leader on climate action but we cannot rest on our laurels
For any party to resile from this agenda will not help economically or electorally
— Sir Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) September 19, 2023
Sunak sees diluting the green agenda as an attractive ploy because of his party’s recent success at a special election in the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where the Tory victory was strongly influenced by taking a prominent stance against the expansion of London’s ultra low emission zone, a flagship green policy of the capital’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.
Speaking to Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua in New York, Khan defended his ULEZ policy and hit back at Sunak.
“This is basically lazy politics from a weak prime minister,” Khan said of Sunak’s policy shift. The UK prime minister is “throwing red meat to his backbenches because he’s so weak and ineffectual,” he said.
Sunak said he would give further details on his plans in a speech later this week.