Rishi Sunak has claimed to have “scrapped” measures such as taxes on meats and flying that were never actually Government policy.
In a speech in Downing Street on Wednesday, Mr Sunak shredded a series of green policies, pushing back key deadlines for the implementation of electric cars and eco-boilers.
But he spent much of the speech claiming to have scrapped “worrying” policies that were never officially announced as measures that would ever be implemented.
Here, i takes a magnifying glass to the Prime Minister’s remarks – and tells you what adds up, and what doesn’t.
Claim: “The proposal for government to interfere in how many passengers you can have in your car. I’ve scrapped it.”
True or False: False.
Not a policy change.
Government guidance from 2022 suggests that “matching up of lifts between drivers and passengers who share a common or similar route… has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from travel”.
The plan suggested that local authorities could promote “lift sharing schemes for staff, residents and businesses” – but there was never any suggestion this would be in any way compulsory.
Claim: “The proposal that we should force you to have seven different bins in your home. I’ve scrapped it.”
True or False: False.
There was no proposal that Britons should be required to have seven different bins – this claim appears to originate from headlines in the Daily Mail earlier this year.
It cited planned reforms to waste collection in England, intended to standardise the way different councils deal with waste.
Regulations passed in 2021 already stipulate that local authorities should arrange for collections of paper, plastic, metal and glass on top of regular collections for non-recyclables, food waste and garden waste – but there is no suggestion a bin would be provided to every household for each.
Within hours of Mr Sunak’s remarks, officials appeared to accept the central conceit was not true – with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirming “it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households” under the provisiosns.
A consultation on waste regulation was held in 2021 but Defra is still yet to publish its response more than two years on.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey is still expected to “shortly” introduce a new recycling plan, which will ensure all homes in England recycle the same materials and “end the confusion and postcode lottery over what can and cannot be recycled”.
A Defra source said: “We are making recycling simpler and putting an end to the confusion that leads to rubbish being put into black bin bags and driven off to landfill.
“The Secretary of State has ordered that councils won’t face a top-down edict on bin numbers and will have the flexibility they need for their residents.”
Claim: “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’ve scrapped those too.”
True or False: False.
Not a policy change. Successive Tory leaders have repeatedly rejected suggestions that meat should be taxed and no frequent flyer tax has been seriously mooted.
In 2021, a document was mistakenly published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, commissioned by third-party academics from the “Behavioural Insights Team”, which said that Britons should be encouraged to cut down on “flying and eating ruminant meat and dairy”.
The policy paper suggests that “disincentives (e.g. higher tax) may be most effective for frequent business flyers” but warned, “for example, an unsophisticated meat tax would be highly regressive”.
The suggestions – which were never Government policy – were immediately disowned more than two years ago. A spokesperson said at the time: “This was an academic research paper, not Government policy. We have no plans whatsoever to dictate consumer behaviour in this way.”
In a press release, the Conservative Party claimed these were polices proposed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent non-departmental public body.
Claim: “Under current plans, some property owners would’ve been forced to make expensive upgrades in just two years’ time. For a semi-detached house in Salisbury, you could be looking at a bill of £8,000 (….) that’s just wrong, so those plans will be scrapped.”
True or False: Misleading.
While technically correct, Mr Sunak’s use of the term “some property owners” here disguises the fact that this policy would have applied only to landlords letting out homes with poor energy efficiency ratings.
The initial policy would have required rental properties to have an EPC rating of “C” or above, up from the current standard of “E”, by 2025 for new tenancies and 2028 for all rental properties.
Campaigners say the change was needed as landlords have little incentive at present to invest in energy efficiency in rental properties, as it is renters who are left to pay for heating in improperly insulated homes while landlords can make no improvements and still collect their monthly cheques.
The Government’s own impact assessment found renters would collectively benefit from up to £8.7bn in energy savings if the policy was introduced – with third-party estimates suggesting the cost of heating an “E”-rated home adding up to an extra £721 per year compared to a “C” rating.
Jess Ralton of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, said: “Scrapping energy efficiency regulations set for five years’ time essentially shows the Conservatives are on the side of the landlords rather than the renters.
“Those living in the private rented sector have some of the lowest incomes, and the worst standards of housing, meaning their bills can be amongst the highest. Excessively cold homes cost the NHS £1.2bn per year and these standards are already delayed.
“It speaks of chaos at the heart of Government for the leadership to be scrapping such a common-sense measure.”
Claim: “We will meet our international commitments and hit net zero by 2050.”
True or False: Jury’s out.
The UK has been criticised for falling behind in its efforts to achieve net zero by 2050, a key global pledge designed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
To remain on target, the UK needs to cut its emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared with its 1990 levels in line with the Paris Agreement.
But the independent CCC has called efforts “worryingly slow” and estimates it will require an extra £50bn of investment per year, by 2030, to meet the interim goal.
“A key opportunity to push a faster pace of progress has been missed,” it warned in July, adding: “The Climate Change Committee’s confidence in the UK meeting its goals from 2030 onwards is now markedly less than it was in our previous assessment a year ago.”
The Prime Minister said the UK remains committed to meeting the target, including those outlined in the Paris Agreement.
The delay on measures such as banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, which will come into force in 2035, not 2030, looks to lengthen the road to net zero.
Claim: “[We won’t] ban new oil and gas in the North Sea, which would simply leave us reliant on expensive, imported energy from foreign dictators like Putin.”
True or False: Misleading.
According to the CCC, newly issued oil and gas licences take around 28 years to begin producing. This means the licences for new oil and gas fields recently granted by Mr Sunak won’t have any effect for decades, which doesn’t accelerate supply for the UK.
Investment in green energy and electric vehicles on a shorter time-frame would substantially reduce the need for oil and gas imports, campaigners say.
Russian gas has only ever played a small role in Britain’s energy mix, nearly half of which already comes from renewables and nuclear power.
Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, only around 4 per cent of gas used in the UK was imported from Russia – meaning there was little direct reliance on Russian sources.
It’s true the UK was hit with an energy price hike after the war began, but that’s because UK energy companies have to buy gas on the global market, whose prices are set by international traders. Because the global price rose, that meant the amount UK consumers pay for energy rose.
Under the Government’s own net zero strategy, the UK expects to become a net exporter of electricity – meaning it generates more power than it needs – by 2030, which would substantially bolster the nation’s energy security.
The energy security strategy also stresses that “the growing proportion of our electricity coming from renewables reduces our exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets,” adding: “We need to be bolder in removing the red tape that holds back new clean energy developments and exploit the potential of all renewable technologies.”
Claim: “For a family living in a terraced house in Darlington, the upfront cost [of a heat pump] could be around £10,000.”
True or False: Mixed.
Mr Sunak pushed back a 2035 target date for a ban on new gas boilers, claiming plans to require environmentally-friendly heat pumps would be “imposing costs on hard-pressed families, at a time when technology is often still expensive and won’t work in all homes”.
But the figures he cited appeared to be at the top end of the possible range. Heat pumps installed by some leading energy companies can cost between £3,000 and £8,000 – slightly more than the cost of having a new boiler installed – and are expected to fall further in the years ahead.
The UK Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme will soon offer up to £7,500 for eligible households who install heat pumps, up from £5,000.
Far from hitting hard-pressed families, energy companies say that installing a heat pump could save as much as £557 a year on energy bills compared to a gas boiler, meaning they could pay for themselves within years.