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

PM challenged over claims he had scrapped plans to force people to have seven bins - as he insisted Thatcher would back his decision

Archie Mitchell
Thursday 21 September 2023 10:12 BST
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Rishi Sunak accused of axing policies that never existed in interview over net zero

Rishi Sunak was accused of scrapping policies that never existed in a punchy interview after he watered down Britain’s net zero plans.

The prime minister was taken to task over his claims to have scrapped green policies, including one which would have “forced you to have seven different bins”.

Mr Sunak was also questioned about having “scrapped” plans to tax meat, people going on holiday and for the government to control how many people can travel in a car.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the morning after a hastily convened Downing Street press briefing, journalist Nick Robinson asked the PM: “You said you wanted a better, more honest debate. You then went on to say ‘I’ve scrapped a series of proposals’, so let me ask you about them.

“Where was this proposal for the government to put a tax on meat, that you had to scrap with such fanfare?

“Where was the proposal for compulsory car sharing that you say will be scrapped?

“And was the government considering forcing people to have seven bins? Another proposal you say you have scrapped.”

Mr Sunak said “a range of different things have been proposed by lots of different people” and cited a report by the independent Climate Change Committee which suggested the measures.

Rishi Sunak’s plans were applauded by his cabinet at a hastily convened Downing Street press conference (via REUTERS)

But, in a fiery exchange, Mr Robinson hit back, saying: “Hold on a second prime minister, you stand up with the authority of prime minister in Downing Street and you say you’re scrapping a series of proposals, and when I asked you about them yourself, you say ‘ oh, somebody considered and it was in the appendix of this document’.

“There’s nothing to be scrapped, which is why your former environment says you’re pretending to halt frightening proposals that simply do not exist.”

Mr Sunak said: “I reject that entirely. These are all things that have been raised by very credible people.”

The PM also insisted former prime minsiter Margaret Thatcher would have backed his move to water down Britain’s climate measures. He told the BBC: “I also believe, as I think Margaret Thatcher would have agreed with as well that it’s not right to just assert the headline, chase the short term popularity that that might give without a clear and deliberate plan for how to get there.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has weakened a host of net zero pledges (Justin Tallis/PA) (PA Wire)

In his speech setting out the government’s new approach to net zero, Mr Sunak claimed to be ditching a “range of worrying proposals”.

“The proposal for government to interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car. I’ve scrapped it,” he said.

“The proposal that we should force you to have seven different bins in your home. I’ve scrapped it.

“The proposal to make you change your diet – and harm British farmers - by taxing meat. Or to create new taxes to discourage flying or going on holiday. I’ve scrapped those too.”

But former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke criticised the Prime Minister for putting up “a lot of straw men” as he weakened environmental policies.

He said: “Nobody serious in politics was talking about banning flying, taxing meat etc.”

During the speech, Mr Sunak also announced that the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars – and gas boilers – would be pushed back to 2035.

Outlining a series of policies aimed at watering down the government’s environmental commitments, he attacked climate “zealots” and said it was wrong to “impose such significant costs on working people”.

But his shift in policy prompted accusations of betrayal and an outpouring of anger among environmentalists, businesses, international allies and some Tory MPs.

On Thursday morning he insisted he is confident Britain can still hit its target to reach net zero by 2030, saying “we’ve been through all the numbers” and are “absolutely confident in our position”.

Mr Sunak also shrugged off suggestions he is not listening to the Climate Change Committee, saying “we are on track to hit all our targets”.

Asked whether he was emulating his predecessor Liz Truss by ignoring advice he does not want to hear from the experts, the Prime Minister told the BBC: “I’m very happy to get opinions and advice from everybody and everyone’s entitled to their view.”

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