He delayed a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035 and added nine years to the phasing-out of new gas boilers.
Pledging to be “honest” in changing the way of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, the PM insisted that the UK was already ahead of other countries and could not impose “unacceptable costs” on the public. Mr Sunak said in a speech at Downing Street yesterday: “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.
“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 said that the green shake-up would save the average family up to £15,000.
His widely-expected announcements were both welcomed and attacked within the Tory Party.
Tory environmentalist Lord Zac Goldsmith even went so far as to demand a General Election over the “economically and ecologically illiterate decision” to change tack.
READ MORE: Boris net-zero blast takes wind out of Sunak’s sails
But party backing for Mr Sunak came from Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg who served in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. He called the ex-Premier, who yesterday criticised the changes, a “net zero zealot”.
The Tories’ holding on to Mr Johnson’s former Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat after a campaign against the growth of the ultra low emission zone in London, had bolstered some party members’ calls for green policies to be binned.
Voters nationally supported the new petrol and diesel car ban when it was announced in 2020, by 49% to 32% in a YouGov poll. But by July opposition had risen to 47% as support slipped to 42%.
Tory voters in particular turned against it, with their opposition jumping from 45% to 68%.
Previous PM Liz Truss, who had called for the delay, hailed Mr Sunak’s changes including the postponement on banning oil and gas boilers, saying: “This is particularly important for rural areas.”
Ms Truss added: “I now urge the Government to abolish the windfall tax on oil and gas and [to] lift the fracking ban, which would reduce people’s energy bills and make the UK more competitive.”
Mr Sunak declared yesterday: “When you ask most people about climate change, they want to do the right thing, they’re even prepared to make sacrifices. But 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 added: “We do not have to be powerless, our future doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. Our destiny can be our own choosing. But only if we change the way our politics works.
“Can we be brave in the decisions we make? Even if there is a political cost? Can we be honest when the facts change, even if it’s awkward? And can we put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment, even if it means being controversial?” The Premier went on: “The test should be – do we have the fairest credible path to reach net zero by 2050 in a way that brings people with us? I don’t think they meet that test.
“We seem to have defaulted to an approach which will impose unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families. Costs that no one was ever told about, and which may not actually be necessary to deliver the emissions reduction.”
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The changes follow Labour’s 20-point lead in the polls.
Mr Sunak conceded there was “lots of resistance” to his changes, as he dodged a challenge on whether he was in a panic ahead of a General Election next year. Taking questions after his speech, the PM said that when Chancellor he was critical of Mr Johnson’s Government being “on autopilot to just adopt” green policies.
He said: “What I don’t want to do is make yet more short-term decisions, easy ways out and ultimately not be straight with the country about what those mean.” In his speech, Mr Sunak had confirmed households would never be made to “rip out” existing boilers to replace them with heat pumps.
He also said more financial support would be given to help households switch to pump devices.
Mr Sunak insisted he saw “no problem” explaining his pushback to his climate-conscious daughters Krishna and Anoushka. The PM added: “It is absolutely wrong to describe in any way, shape or form what I’m doing today as ‘watering down our targets’.
“If someone thinks that what we’re doing is somehow not sufficient, not ambitious enough, I don’t know what they’d say to pretty much every other country in the world, because we are way out ahead already.”
But eco-campaigners accused the Government of “kicking net zero further down the road”.
Leo Murray, the co-director of climate action charity Possible, said the “disastrous U-turn on the UK’s most essential climate policies will keep people’s bills high and our emissions even higher. Climate change is an issue that a majority of the UK electorate agree on…voters will judge this Government harshly if they continue to backtrack. It’s time for politicians to show real climate leadership and go forwards.”
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