Petrol car ban may be delayed as Sunak waters down net zero pledges

Rishi Sunak insisted he was still committed to the 2050 net zero target but said he would meet it in a ‘better, more proportionate way’
Rishi Sunak insisted he was still committed to the 2050 net zero target but said he would meet it in a ‘better, more proportionate way’ - Eddie Mulholland

The petrol car ban is expected to be delayed under plans to water down key net zero policies being drawn up by Rishi Sunak.

On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister insisted he was still committed to the 2050 net zero target but said he would meet it in a “better, more proportionate way”, admitting that the Government has “not been honest about costs and trade-offs” of green policies.

In a major speech this week, he is expected to announce that he is pushing back the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.

A planned ban on oil boilers may be delayed from 2026 to 2035, with a requirement that only 80 per cent are replaced by that date.

Similarly, instead of banning the installation of gas boilers after 2035, Mr Sunak is expected to say that the same proportion can be phased out by then.

Plans to fine landlords for failing to upgrade their properties to a certain level of energy efficiency could be scrapped.

Tory MPs welcomed the plans, which would mark a clear dividing line between the party and Labour, calling them “great news and a victory for common sense”.

On Tuesday night, Mr Sunak said he understood that the public was “frustrated with politics and want real change”, adding: “This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments – far from it.

“I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to net zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally – but doing so in a better, more proportionate way.

“For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead, they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.”

In his speech, the Prime Minister is expected to reiterate that the UK is still committed to the target but say that other countries need to bear more of the burden of dealing with climate change.

On Tuesday night, he said: “Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.

“No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change. As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children.”

Alterations to policies concerning cars, boilers and landlords are among seven changes being considered by Mr Sunak.

He is expected to say that there will be no policies to change people’s diets or to encourage carpooling, and no new taxes to discourage flying. He is also likely to rule out burdensome recycling schemes, including a proposal for seven bins, with six separate recycling bins plus one for general waste.

It comes three weeks after the Prime Minister installed Claire Coutinho as the Energy, Security and Net Zero Secretary, an appointment that many Tories suggested was a sign that he was considering a change of policy.

In the past Ms Coutinho has stood up for the thousands of people, mostly in rural communities, who use off-grid oil boilers. At the time, a senior government source said that while she agreed to push forward on net zero plans with Mr Sunak, she believed households should be protected from “massive” financial costs.

The timing of the policy shift is eye-catching, because major announcements are usually saved until the Tory party conference at the start of October, but it is believed to be part of a strategy to distance the Conservatives from Labour amid dire polling and with two by-elections looming.

Mr Sunak’s personal ratings have fallen to their lowest ever levels, with a Deltapoll survey published on Tuesday giving Labour a 24-point lead.

He is facing a difficult fight to keep Nadine Dorries’ old Mid Bedfordshire seat in a by-election next month, which falls on the same day as the vote in the Tamworth seat of disgraced MP Chris Pincher.

Party strategists believe the Tory victory in July’s Uxbridge by-election proves that Sir Keir Starmer’s ideological commitment to net zero is at odds with the general public.

The Tories managed to hold Boris Johnson’s old seat against a Labour onslaught, with the London mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the ultra-low emission zone across the whole of the capital proving a key issue.

Following the result, which came on the day of two other by-election losses, Mr Sunak came under pressure to row back on policies that impose a direct cost on consumers.

The new approach, following a post-Uxbridge review of net zero policies, could strengthen his position with backbenchers.

Earlier this week, the former prime minister Liz Truss, who still enjoys some support with MPs, called for net zero pledges to be delayed and said Mr Sunak’s policies were not in the Conservative tradition.

Greg Smith, the Tory MP for Buckingham, welcomed the apparent change of heart, saying: “If the petrol and diesel ban and gas boiler ban is actually put back, that is great news and a victory for common sense.

“We need to see de-fossilisation delivered in a way that means no one has to change anything about their lives, but sees technology deliver solutions.

“For example, man-made carbon neutral synthetic fuel needs adopting for vehicles, with the crazy mandate to be fully zero emission at the tailpipe scrapped in favour of whole system analysis.”

Brendan Clarke-Smith, the Tory MP for Bassetlaw, tweeted: “I’d call it a sensible and pragmatic approach towards reaching environmental goals, but without adding an unnecessary burden to those in society who can least afford it.”

But some Tory MPs are reportedly considering writing letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he goes ahead with the changes.

Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP and former energy minister, told the Financial Times: “We will look back on this moment as Sunak’s slow motion car crash.”

Former Cop26 president Sir Alok Sharma warned rowing back on climate action “will not help economically or electorally”.

Meanwhile former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke tweeted that it is in the Conservative Party’s interests to “make sure we lead on this issue rather than disown it”.

Mr Skidmore, who led a review of net zero last year, warned Mr Sunak would be making “the greatest mistake of his premiership” if he went ahead with the planned changes.

“If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future,” he said.

“It will potentially destabilise thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately the people who will pay the price for this will be householders, whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.”

A government spokesman said: “The Government remains completely committed to its net zero commitments, with the UK having cut emissions faster than any other G7 country.

“Our approach will always be pragmatic and ensure costs are not passed on to hard-working families. We will not comment on speculation.”

Mr Sunak is facing a backlash from other quarters over the plans, first reported by the BBC, with one Tory MP telling Sky News they were “seriously considering” submitting a no confidence letter.

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