The Crown Prince of Kuwait had his trip to meet Rishi Sunak partially disrupted by opponents of the charge on motorists using high-polluting vehicles, who staged an angry demonstration outside Downing Street.
Police were forced to restrain some anti-Ulez activists as tempers flared in scuffles on Whitehall. Some campaigners chanted “get Khan out” and held up mocked-up car registration plates bearing the slogan.
More than a dozen cameras across Bromley, south London, were vandalised as the expansion came into force on Tuesday. Some were spray-painted red, while others were smashed or had their wires cut. Only two of 16 cameras on one stretch of the A224 escaped untouched.
Anti-Ulez vigilantes labelled “Blade Runners” have been damaging cameras’ wires in recent weeks, but it is not known if they were responsible for the latest attacks.
Mr Khan remained defiant despite the backlash – arguing that expanding the £12.50 daily fee for high-polluting vehicles to outer London boroughs was “difficult” but “vital” to save lives.
But the plan was hit by an early snag when the Transport for London (TfL) website where drivers can check if they have to pay the charge crashed. Motorists were told on Tuesday morning that the site was experiencing “technical difficulties”.
Protesters outside No 10 carried placards saying “Stop the Toxic Air Lie” and “Ulez all about money”. Dozens of activists lined the road leading to Downing Street in the centre of the capital, blowing whistles and banging drums.
Husband and wife Tom and Carolyn Dare were among the crowd of protesters. Ms Dare said she wanted Mr Sunak to “overrule Sadiq Khan”, adding: “He has got the power.”
On Tuesday, London became the world’s largest pollution charging area after Ulez was expanded to the whole of the capital. People who drive in the zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine.
Mr Khan clashed with transport secretary Mark Harper – accusing the Tory minister of spreading “factual errors” about the initiative.
The Tories continue to hammer both Mr Khan and Labour more widely on the introduction of the scheme, widely reckoned to have cost Labour the recent by-election in Boris Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge.
Asked on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he had thought about it costing Labour the general election, Mr Khan said: “It was a difficult decision. I accept Ulez was a factor in Uxbridge and Ruislip, [but] there was a lot of misinformation in relation to that seat.”
Mr Harper accused the Labour mayor of a cash grab. “It’s not about air pollution, it’s about a money-raising exercise,” he told GB News. “And this is absolutely not the time to be putting all those costs on hard-pressed and hard-working Londoners and those in the area outside London.”
Asked if he would put an end to the expansion if he had the power to do so, Mr Harper said: “Yes – I don’t have the power, though.”
Rejecting some of Mr Harper’s “factual errors”, Mr Khan told BBC Breakfast: “If this was about making money, I’d have acceded to the demand from the government to expand the congestion charge much wider than it currently is. That would have been a cash grab, but I said ‘No’.”
Speaking on Times Radio, the Labour mayor also ruled out a pay-per-mile charging scheme while he is in office, adding: “It’s not on the agenda, it’s not on the table.”
Mr Khan did say that it was “no secret that the government, transport officials in London and around the country, have been looking at for some time... a smarter, streamlined service for a variety of reasons”.
He added: “In fact, Boris Johnson, when he was the mayor of London – remember him? – in his transport strategy there was talk about a pay-per-mile scheme. When Rishi Sunak was chancellor, he asked his Treasury officials to look into these schemes. There’s no secrecy around this.”
Mr Harper explained on LBC’s Nick Ferrari programme that the government will be backing an amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill in a bid to prevent road charging.
Under the amendment, brought forward by Tory peer Lord Moylan, London boroughs would be able to opt out of future TfL clean air schemes if they are meeting air quality targets.
Despite the Tories’ moves to pounce upon anger over Ulez, Stanley Johnson warned Mr Sunak that opposing the scheme is a “betrayal” and is not going to help the party win the next general election.
“I think the Tories are seriously barking up the wrong tree if they think that attacking Ulez is going to be the secret to success of the next election,” Boris Johnson’s father told GB News.
Mr Khan is at odds with Sir Keir Starmer over Ulez, after the Labour leader backtracked on support and urged the mayor to “reflect” on its expansion.
But Mr Sunak hit out at both Sir Keir and Mr Khan on Tuesday, saying the scheme was “going to hit working families”. The prime minister added: “I don’t think that’s the right priority, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do and I wish they hadn’t done it.”
So far, more than 380 Ulez cameras have been targeted during a wave of anger against the anti-pollution scheme, with the Metropolitan Police reporting 185 destroyed cables and 164 stolen cameras.
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