Senior Tory MPs have warned Rishi Sunak against backing away from policies aimed at tackling climate change.
Labour’s loss in the recent Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election has been interpreted by some as a de-facto referendum on the controversial ULEZ expansion.
But three former cabinet minister have urged Sunak not to fall into the so-called ‘cut the green crap’ trap, in a reference to David Cameron’s supposed remark on voter priorities.
Sir Simon Clarke, former levelling up secretary, and ex- health secretary, now independent MP, Matt Hancock have entered the debate on phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2030.
Clarke, also a former Treasury minister, said the “ambitious target” was “driving investment into our country”, citing the £4bn Jaguar Land Rover battery factory.
He warned: “Delaying the target risks losing UK jobs and industry overseas.”
While Johnson-era minister Hancock said the “impact of climate change across Europe and across the world” was apparent, noting the recent “hottest days in recorded history”.
He said: “Delaying the move away from fossil-fuel cars would be completely irresponsible.
“We need to drive down the prices of electric and other zero emission vehicles so more people can afford them.
“Electric vehicles will have a lower sticker price than fossil-fuel cars within just a few years, but the costs have already fallen dramatically and will fall even more as the industry grows.
“Delaying the target would deter the investment and jobs and innovation we need to see.”
Tory peer Zac Goldsmith – who resigned his government job as minister for the international environment in a stinging rebuke to Sunak who he accused of being “simply uninterested” in the environment – also weighed in.
He signed a joint letter from the all-party parliamentary group on climate, which warned any retreat from green agenda would be “catastrophic for the economy”.
Urging Sunak to guarantee he will attend COP28 in Dubai, they wrote: “Working to guarantee a successful outcome at Cop28 is not just essential for the health of people and the planet, but economically the right thing for Britain.
“As you were recently warned by top energy companies, backing away from green policies would be catastrophic for the economy.”
The letter was co-signed by former Labour minister Hilary Benn, Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper and outgoing Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, as well as Theresa May’s former environmental advisor Lord Randall.
The government has committed to reaching net zero over the next three decades, alongside decarbonising the country’s electricity grid by 2035 – both of which will require significant renewable investment and hefty reductions in the country’s carbon emissions.
A government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to net zero, including phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, while believing it’s right we deliver this in a way that is proportionate and pragmatic for the public.”