LONDON – Rishi Sunak confirmed a major rollback on several key UK green policies, despite a fierce backlash from business groups, climate activists and some members of his own Conservative Party.
In a hastily arranged speech on Wednesday, delivered after details of his plan were leaked, the UK prime minister said there was “nothing ambitious about simply stating a target for a short-term incumbent without being honest with the public about the difficult decisions and sacrifices involved.” , and without any meaningful democratic debate about how to get there.”
And he argued: “No one in Westminster politics has the courage to look people in the eye and explain what is really involved. That is wrong and now it changes.”
The U.K. Conservative government passed a law in 2019 pledging to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While that headline goal remains in place, Sunak, whose party is trailing in the polls ahead of elections scheduled for next year, has tried to achieve a dividing line with the opposition Labor Party over how the promise is fulfilled.
Speaking in Downing Street on Wednesday, Sunak confirmed he would “facilitate the transition to electric vehicles”, changing the date for the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.
He promised there would be “more time to transition to heat pumps”, a cleaner form of heating, and the target of phasing out gas boilers by 2035 is set back. But he promised that cash grants offered to homeowners to improve their heating systems will be boosted.
Sunak said he would ensure no new energy efficiency rules were imposed on homeowners. He delayed until 2035 what had been a 2026 goal of banning fossil fuels off the grid.
He ruled out new taxes aimed at discouraging flights and announced a rethink of planned new recycling plans.
Trying to justify his shift, Sunak warned that continuing down the current political path risked “losing the consent of the British people, and the resulting backlash will not just be against specific policies, but against the broader mission itself, which It means we may never reach our goal.” goal.”
“That’s why we have to do things differently,” he added.
The changes to Britain’s net zero emissions strategy were first proposed by the BBC Tuesday night, forcing a rushed statement from Sunak’s 10 Downing Street and bringing forward Sunak’s speech. Even before his afternoon speech, businesses (and Sunak’s own party) weighed in.
In a statement, carmaker Ford UK, which has invested nearly half a billion pounds in its UK facilities as part of preparation for the 2030 vehicle target, said it needed “ambition, commitment and consistency.” by the government. He warned that “a relaxation of the 2030 (electric car) (target) would undermine all three.”
Sunak’s climate change also exposed deep divisions in the Conservative Party, which includes right-wing MPs who are skeptical about the green agenda and its impact on voters amid pressure on the cost of living.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman expressed that thought on Wednesday, telling Times Radio: “We are not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.”
Sunak also had the backing of the New Conservative group, a right-wing group chaired by MPs Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, who described the move as “putting the workers of this country first”.
Other Conservatives warned that the change in strategy would cause great uncertainty for businesses.
Sunak’s former rival Boris Johnson was among those who struck a blow on Wednesday afternoon, telling his penultimate successor as prime minister that “we cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this.” country”.
His Conservative peer and former Environment Minister, Zac Goldsmith, went further: describing He called the change a “moment of shame” for the government he once served in and called a general election. Activists threatened legal action.
“It’s pretty impressive when they manage to upset the automakers and the environmental lobby,” said Daisy Powell-Chandler of the public opinion research agency Public First.
“To be seen going back to net zero is to lose votes,” warned Powell-Chandler, speaking ahead of Sunak’s press conference.
He pointed to a poll conducted by Public First for the centrist think tank Onward, showing that 39 per cent of voters who backed the Conservatives in 2019 but are now considering voting for other parties would be less likely to vote for the Conservatives. Tories again if Sunak backs down from net zero target.
“It’s bad for the economy, it’s bad for our international reputation, it’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for the Conservative Party and it’s bad for consumers who will end up paying more in energy bills,” Powell-Chandler warned.
This developing story is being updated.