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Tories at war over net zero U-turn as Liz Truss backs Rishi Sunak but Zac Goldsmith calls for election

The watering-down of net zero measures by Rishi Sunak has triggered major divisions inside the Conservative Party over the future of its green agenda.

Former environment minister and prominent green campaigner Zac Goldsmith called for a snap general election to test the Prime Minister’s mandate for overhauling the Government’s plans.

Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto pledged that the UK would “lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”.

The former prime minister was among several senior Tories who criticised Mr Sunak’s U-turn, which included pushing back a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, saying the UK must “not falter” in its progress towards that 2050 target.

Lord Goldsmith said he had received hundreds of messages from Conservatives “telling me that this move by the PM vindicates my decision to noisily resign”, adding on X/Twitter: “I hoped it would add to pressure on government to prove me and others wrong. We need an election. Now.”

He described the climbdown as an “economically and ecologically illiterate decision”.

Former Tory energy minister Chris Skidmore said that “delaying carefully planned and proportionate net zero measures will only cause economic pain and cost householders more. We cannot afford for ‘not zero’ to damage businesses and jobs”.

The Conservative Environment Network, which represents 150 Tory MPs and peers, warned Mr Sunak risked reputational damage for the party.

Its director Sam Hall said: “This was an unnecessary speech that risks damaging the Conservative Party’s hard-won reputation on environmental issues.

“Today the PM has changed little of substance besides delaying the transition to electric cars.

“Sticking to the 2030 deadline would have saved UK motorists money, supported car firms that have invested in new EV factories, and unlocked crucial investment in charge-point infrastructure.

“New measures to speed up grid infrastructure and incentivise heat pump uptake are very welcome, however.

“But the framing of today’s announcements has created an unhelpful impression for voters that the party is backtracking on climate action.”

However, the former prime minister Liz Truss welcomed the U-turn.

She said: “I welcome the delay on banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars as well as the delay on the ban on oil and gas boilers. This is particularly important for rural areas.

“I now urge the Government to abolish the Windfall Tax on oil and gas and lift the fracking ban, which would reduce people’s energy bills and make the UK more competitive.”

And Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who served in Mr Johnson’s cabinet, called the former prime minister a “net zero zealot” and backed Mr Sunak.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle reacted furiously to the announcement not being made to MPs, expressing his views “in the strongest terms” in a letter to Mr Sunak.

He hit out at the “major policy shift” being made a day after the Commons closed for the conference recess.

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