Rishi Sunak has confirmed he will be easing a series of green policies under a “new approach” designed to protect “hard-pressed British families” from “unacceptable costs”.
Delivering a speech from Downing Street, he said he is still committed to reaching net zero by 2020, but the transition can be done in a “fairer and better way”.
Announcing a raft of U-turns, the prime minister confirmed he will delay a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by five years and a weakening of targets to phase out gas boilers.
He also said a “worrying set of proposals” that had emerged during debates on net zero would be scrapped, including:
- To enforce upgrades to home insulation in two years
- For government to interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car
- To force you to have seven different bins in your home
- To make you change your diet and harm British farmers by taxing meat
- To create new taxes to discourage flying or going on holiday
“Our destiny can be of our own choosing,” Mr Sunak said – while calling for politicians to be “honest” about the costs of green policies on families.
Politics live: Rishi Sunak gives speech from Downing Street
The change in approach has drawn heavy criticism from opposition MPs, environment groups and even some senior Tories.
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth branded the prime minister “weak” and said the measures would undermine business and the economy.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: “This is not leadership from Rishi Sunak, this is putting the UK at the back of the queue as the rest of the world races to embrace the industries of tomorrow. “
Explaining the government’s decision to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently due in 2030 – by five years, Mr Sunak said this would give businesses “more time to prepare”.
He also said people would still be allowed to buy secondhand diesel and petrol cars after that date and this would align the UK’s approach with countries across Europe, Canada and many US states.
In weakening the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035, Mr Sunak said households would “never” be forced to “rip-out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump”.
Now, this will only be required when people are due to change their boiler anyway and even then, not until 2035.
To help households for whom that will be the hardest, he said an exception will be introduced so they would not have to make the change.
And he said rather than banning boilers “before people can afford the alternative” the government is going to “support them to make the switch” by increasing the boiler upgrade scheme.
He said: “The boiler upgrade scheme which gives people cash grants to upgrade their boiler will be increased by 50% to seven and a half thousand pounds.
“There are no strings attached. The money will never need to be repaid.”
Mr Sunak has also scrapped plans to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties, saying some property owners would have been forced to “make expensive upgrades” within two years time and that would inevitably impact renters.
“You could be looking at a bill of £8,000, and even if you’re only renting, you’re more than likely see some of that passed on in higher rents,” he said.
“That’s just wrong, so those plans will be scrapped,” he says.
“While we will continue to subsidise energy efficiency, we’ll never force any household to do it.”
Despite the “new approach”, the prime minister insisted the UK would meet its international obligations on climate change – such as those made under the Paris Climate Accords.
Johnson and Gore among critics
The announcement comes after last night’s leak of plans to push back key target dates for switching to green energy, which have triggered a huge row within the Tory party.
In a rare late-night statement, Mr Sunak said his plans would not be derailed by a “leak”, claiming politicians “of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs” associated with net zero.
However, he has faced backlash from across the political spectrum – with critics ranging from former Tory prime minister Boris Johnson to ex-vice president of the United States, Al Gore.
Climate scientists say urgent cuts are needed to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions if we are to stop temperatures rising to a potentially catastrophic extent.
In the summer, scientists warned extreme heat events were rapidly on the rise due to climate change.
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The UK’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050 was written into law in 2019.
Mr Sunak has said he is still committed to that target but wants to make sure the measures to get there don’t add extra costs to households.
However, he faced criticism for disrupting the certainty needed for firms to invest in Britain, particularly the car industry.
Environmental groups also warned achieving net zero requires deep emissions cuts this decade and that they cannot just be cut at the last minute.
While Labour’s Ed Miliband, the party’s shadow climate secretary, accused Mr Sunak of a “panicked” speech on the issue and “economic illiteracy” which would lead to higher energy bills for families.
Tory MPs are split, with some seeing the row back on costly green policies as a vote winner and others fearing the impact it will have on business and the climate.