Ditching net zero will cost us blue wall, Tory MPs tell Sunak

PM told to ignore ‘siren voices’ of sceptics on Conservative right

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 14 August 2023 16:39 BST
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Rishi Sunak has been warned that any attempt to dilute net zero commitments on climate change could cost them crucial seats in the “blue wall” south of England.

The PM appeared to shift his tone on green policies after his party unexpectedly clung on to its Uxbridge seat by over the backlash against the London mayor’s Ulez expansion.

Mr Sunak gave the green light to 100 new oil and gas licences, with some Tory backbenchers urging him to go further and ditch or delay bans on new oil boilers by 2026 and new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.

But the Conservative Environment Network, a group representing around 150 Tories, has told the PM to ignore the “siren voices” of the sceptics pushing to scrap net zero measures deemed too costly.

Sam Hall, director of the CEN, which has the support of 400 councillors along with 150 MPS and peers, told The Times: “Few votes can be won by rolling back on green targets, but many could be lost.”

Siobhan Baillie, Tory MP for Stroud in the blue wall heartlands, told the newspaper: “Ambitious green policies that cut bills and create jobs are an electoral asset, not a liability.”

And Chris Skidmore, the former Tory minister who led the government’s net zero review, said Mr Sunak should want the UK to “lead and succeed” in climate “or be condemned to following, to missing out, on these opportunities and costing the UK and local communities jobs and economic growth”.

Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon, urged Mr Sunak to “stick with the promise”. Asked if there was votes to be lost by rowing back on the green agenda, she told Times Radio: “Certainly.”

She said: “Out here I am definitely a greeny-blue Conservative and always have been. And I do think Cameron’s mission in 2015 that you vote blue and get green is very much the platform that I stood on, and I think it’s very much what my constituents would expect me to deliver.”

Rishi Sunak in Uxbridge after the Tories’ unexpected win
Rishi Sunak in Uxbridge after the Tories’ unexpected win (PA)

Mr Sunak is under growing pressure from two warring Tory camps: the Conservative Environment Network, whose members are pushing for stronger action on climate change, and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which is lobbying for environmental policies to be watered down.

Net zero sceptics want the PM to build on the success of the anti-Ulez by-election result in Uxbridge by scrapping Boris Johnson’s policy to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.

He also faces a rebellion on the de facto ban on oil boilers from 2026, which mostly affects those living in off-grid homes in the countryside. Former environment secretary George Eustice described the policy as “Ulez for rural communities”.

The Conservative Rural Forum, a network of grassroots activists, has warned Mr Sunak against the “more extreme” measures involved in reaching the target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Chairwoman Lizzie Hacking said: “Everyone does want net zero, but perhaps some of the asks of other groups are slightly more extreme than what the majority of the public wants.”

Energy secretary Grant Shapps said last week that the climate crisis poses a threat to Britain’s security and energy supply. “We can’t have global security without net zero,” Mr Shapps told Politico.

But ex-business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Independent that Mr Shapps was “fundamentally wrong”. He said: “The rush to net zero at the expense of the economy is a threat to global security.”

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