Boris Johnson’s ‘energy plan’ delayed again as Rishi Sunak ‘won’t provide any new money’

Embarrassment for prime minister who pledged – almost three weeks ago – that strategy would be unveiled ‘the next few days’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 28 March 2022 14:02 BST
Spring Statement: The key points from Rishi Sunak's mini budget from fuel duties to income tax

A promised plan to wean the UK off foreign oil and gas is set to be delayed again, apparently because Rishi Sunak is reluctant to provide “any new money”.

The hold-up is a fresh embarrassment for Boris Johnson who pledged – almost three weeks ago – that his “energy independence plan” would be unveiled in “the next few days”.

The document, to pave the way for an expansion in solar and wind power, but also to approve new controversial North Sea oil and gas licenses, was due to be unveiled this week.

But Treasury officials have said the chancellor has demanded more time to scrutinise the plans, one telling The Financial Times: “He doesn’t want to provide any new money.”

The plan is now not expected until after MPs leave Westminster for their Easter recess on Thursday, because “policy is still being decided on,” a Treasury source told the PA news agency.

It is understood that the plan could still be released next week, as the House of Lords continues to sit until 7 April before taking its Easter break. But after that, publication could be difficult because of the purdah period ahead of 5 May local elections, when public authorities are barred from making announcements which could impact on the campaign.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, wants to accelerate onshore wind projects – by offering incentives to nearby residents to accept them – but the idea has provoked a cabinet split.

Mr Sunak is believed to consider them poor value for money, as he seeks to bear down on spending and build up a war chest for pre-election tax cuts in 2024.

The stance has seen the chancellor heavily criticised since last week’s mini-budget which offered little to families facing a cost of living crisis and forecast explosion in poverty.

Mr Sunak will face tough questioning over the extent of the help he is offering as energy price cap leaps to as high as £2,800, when he is quizzed by the Commons Treasury committee on Monday.

A key battle over the energy security strategy appears to centre on whether tough planning barriers to onshore wind projects, imposed by David Cameron’s government, will be relaxed.

Campaigners say they – unlike fracking – could deliver the prize of replacing foreign gas as an energy source, but they are hated by the influential Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Tory MPs.

The education secretary Nadhim Zahawi hinted at lower energy bills for people living near onshore wind farms, as well as near planned nuclear power stations.

“If we are going to make sure that we carry the will of local people, whether it’s onshore wind or nuclear, we have to learn from how it’s done well in other countries,” he said on Sunday.

“It’s right to look at innovation to make sure we wean ourselves off hydrocarbons – we have to do that, we have to do that well. Part of that is making sure we look after the will of the local people.”

During a visit to the Gulf on 16 March, the prime minister said the strategy will include a “massive jump forward on renewables, more nuclear, using our own hydrocarbons more effectively”.

Mr Johnson said it would be released “next week”, a timetable that slipped to publication before the end of the month – but which now appears to have been hit by a fresh delay.

The PM’s official spokesperson told reporters: “It is important we get these things right. It’s a significant piece of work, it takes time to develop and it’s not unusual for processes like this to take the right amount of time before publication.

“We will set out plans for publication as soon as possible, but it will depend entirely upon when the work is concluded and signed off.”

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