Major Tory donor threatens to back Labour over ‘madness’ of Sunak’s net zero U-turn

Billionaire John Caudwell was the Tories’ largest donor before the last election in 2019

Eleanor Noyce
Sunday 24 September 2023 15:44 BST

Rishi Sunak accused of axing policies that never existed in interview over net zero

A major Conservative Party donor has threatened to switch his allegiance to Labour over the “madness” of Rishi Sunak’s net zero U-turn.

Billionaire John Caudwell was the Tory party’s largest donor before the last election, but he has now said there is “no chance whatsoever” that he will support Mr Sunak after the changes the prime minister made on an array of green policies earlier this week.

In 2019, the founder of mobile phone retailer Phones4U, which went into administration in 2014, gave £500,000 to the party. According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2022, Mr Caudwell is worth £1.58bn, and he was ranked 984th on the Forbes 2022 list of the world’s billionaires, which listed his net worth as $2.8bn.

John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of Phones 4U, says he was ‘beyond shocked’ at the PM’s reversal on green reforms

This week, Mr Sunak jettisoned an extensive list of net zero pledges, delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035 and diluting targets for the phasing out of gas boilers.

He announced that the UK will stick by its net zero commitment, but rolled back planned measures designed to keep the country on track to meet its climate goals by 2050. Mr Sunak argued that the policies imposed “unacceptable costs” on ordinary people, though climate experts have strongly rejected that claim.

The prime minister was widely mocked for axeing policies that did not actually exist – such as a theoretical new tax on meat and “compulsory” car-sharing.

In The Sunday Times, Mr Caudwell said he was “beyond shocked” at the “madness” of Mr Sunak’s reversal on green reforms that had been introduced by former prime minister Boris Johnson.

“If Rishi sticks to this, would I donate to the Conservative Party? Absolutely not,” he said. “No chance whatsoever with the decisions they are making at the moment.

“Would I switch to Labour? The answer to that is very simple: I will support any party that I believe will do the right thing for Britain going forward.”

Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak jettisoned an extensive list of net zero pledges

The billionaire said he was “horrified” by the changes Mr Sunak has made to the Tory party’s green policies, remarking that the decision “moves the Conservatives back a long way”.

“Whatever chance they had of winning the next election, this moves them backwards,” he said. “It shows inconsistency. It shows lack of determination. It’s depressing.”

Mr Caudwell said he had been “extremely disappointed” by the management of the Conservative Party over the past four years, but had been prompted to speak out following Mr Sunak’s net zero statement.

“The biggest problem that we face is the environment and climate change,” he told Sky News. He said that delaying the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035 meant there was a risk that it would already be too late.

“It is a devastating mistake, because we might already be past the tipping point,” he said.

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