The government’s net zero tsar has warned it would be an “abdication” of responsibility if ministers “play politics” with environmental policies.
Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood, warned that reaching environmental targets were a “key economic driver of future growth and investment that can transform Britain for the better”.
His comments come after the Tories held on to Boris Johnson’s old Uxbridge South Ruislip seat in Thursday’s by-election – with the surprise win widely credited to a row over Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) in the car-reliant area.
With the scheme proving unpopular, climate-sceptic Tories are urging Rishi Sunak to rip up other green pledges, such as phasing out new gas boilers by 2035 and banning the sale of new petrol cars by 2030, in a bid to take on Labour at the next election.
But Mr Skidmore, who chairs the independent Government review on net zero, insists that watering down green promises would be “deeply regrettable”, adding that “the lives and health of the public” must be put “ahead of gamesmanship”.
He said: “The UK has been an international leader on taking climate action and cutting our emissions at the same time as growing our economy. We did so by ensuring that we took the politics out of climate change, which affects us all, regardless of who is in power.
“That’s why the Conservatives, in opposition, backed the landmark Climate Change Act in 2008 that has created the political stability for businesses and industry to invest billions into green industries, making us a global leader and creating new jobs and investment like the £4 billion electric vehicle battery gigafactory announced this week.
“The net zero review I chaired demonstrated that net zero isn’t just an environmental policy but a key economic driver of future growth and investment that can transform Britain for the better, but this requires all political parties not to play politics with safeguarding our futures.
“To do so would not only be deeply regrettable, it would be an abdication of responsible government that must put the lives and health of the public and the opportunity for economic growth by investing in industries of the future ahead of gamesmanship.
“It is also really bad politics, given that the environment and taking action on climate change consistently polls third in the issues that voters care about.
“Mainstream parties that don’t recognise the priorities of the public and are instead swayed by vocal minorities end up ultimately becoming minority parties in due course,” he added.
His intervention comes after Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the controversial Net Zero Scrutiny Group, told the Telegraph the Uxbridge result is “a wake-up call to warn politicians against anti-motorist policies across the entire country”.
He said: “We need to get the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars overturned at least until 2035, which is where most of the developed world is going.”
The Times newspaper, quoting an ally of the Prime Minister, said Mr Sunak is preparing to approach the lead-up to next year’s election with “more political edge”.
The newspaper said Mr Sunak is planning to focus on “divisive” issues, such as crime, cracking down on small boats of migrants arriving in Britain, and transgender rights, to claw back ground on Labour, with Sir Keir’s outfit well ahead in opinion polls.
Additional reporting by Press Association