Rishi Sunak has insisted he was acting to avoid a public “backlash” by watering down efforts to tackle the climate crisis in an announcement that is facing fierce criticism from green-minded Conservatives, environmentalists and industry figures.
In a speech from Downing Street, the British prime minister said on Wednesday he would put back a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by five years in a major U-turn among a raft of measures.
And he confirmed that households would “never” be forced to “rip-out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump”.
Mr Sunak insisted the UK was already ahead of allies in reducing emissions and could not impose “unacceptable costs” on British families.
“The risk here to those of us who care about reaching net zero, as I do, is simple: if we continue down this path we risk losing the consent of the British people,” he said.
“And the resulting backlash would not just be against specific policies but against the wider mission itself meaning we might never achieve our goal. That’s why we have to do things differently.”
Mr Sunak detailed the plans to the public after putting them to Cabinet ministers in a hastily-arranged call in response to a leak of his net-zero plans.
Speaking from his press briefing room in front of a podium brandishing the Tory conference slogan of “long-term decisions for a brighter future”, he claimed previous governments – both Conservatives and Labour – had sought to get to net zero “simply by wishing it”.
“No one in Westminster politics has yet had the courage to look people in the eye and explain what’s really involved. That’s wrong, and it changes now,” Mr Sunak said.
“It cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet and to interfere so much in people’s way of life without a properly informed national debate,” he said.
“While will continue to subsidise energy efficiency will never force any household to do it,” Mr Sunak told the press conference.
“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 scrapped those too”.
The prime minister also said there would be no ban on new oil and gas in the North Sea which would leave Britain “reliant on expensive imported energy.”
Mr Sunak also reiterated that the aim was to still meet Britain’s international commitments and hit net zero by 2050 despite the raft of changes to their previous climate pledges. - PA/Reuters