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Embarrassment for Sunak and Ross as Tory MSP rebels against PM's plans to water down net zero targets

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in the briefing room at 10 Downing Street (Photo: Hollie Adams)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in the briefing room at 10 Downing Street (Photo: Hollie Adams)

Rishi Sunak and Douglas Ross faced an embarrassing rebellion from one of their own MSPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s plans to water down key net zero targets.

Maurice Golden, who led the Scottish Conservative’s attacks against the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme, voted against his own party’s amendment during a debate in Holyrood on climate change and labelled the intervention as “deeply disappointing”.

The Tory motion backed the Prime Minister’s changes to net zero targets, stating that they “demonstrate a commitment to realistic achievement of ambitious environmental goals without alienating households”.

It is the first rebellion the Scottish Tories have faced this parliamentary session with the last being over Covid travel restrictions in 2020, and comes after several MSPs voted for Holyrood’s gender recognition reforms in December last year.

Mr Golden said that watching the pathway to net zero being watered down was “deeply disappointing” and attacked the Prime Minister for claiming he was scrapping policies that no-one had suggested or were being brought forward, such as a ban on eating meat.

The Tory MSP for North East Scotland said: “I was very concerned about the way in which the...framing of some of the bullet points on that social media clip.

"I thought that was deeply disappointing to frame the climate change debate in that manner.

"Because certainly during the last session of parliament we had a consensus around climate change, cross-party and across government.

"It is worrying if that consensus breaks down.”

However, he also criticised Humza Yousaf for launching “hypocritical attacks” on the UK Government, highlighting that the Scottish Government has missed its legal emissions targets eight out of the last 12 years and did not vote for the Scottish Government motion.

Mr Golden’s comments came after Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, backed the Prime Minister’s intervention, stating that the policies were “welcomed” on the doorsteps and the changes were based on the fact that “interim targets were not going to be deliverable”.

The Prime Minister’s pledge included a delay to the ban on sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by five years – to 2035 – and weakened the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035.

Scottish ministers now “urgently” assessing how the news will impact targets north of the border.

Cabinet secretary for net zero, Mairi McAllan, said the announcement was “deja vu” for the Scottish Government who were now forced to pick up the pieces of an attack on its climate change policies.

She said the UK Government now appeared “intent on sabotaging our energy future” and said she “cannot pretend” the changes from Mr Sunak will not have an impact on Scotland’s own targets.

The minister added that the Prime Minister’s speech was an “unforgivable betrayal of future and current generations”.

It is understood work is underway within government to establish what impact the decisions made by the Prime Minister will have on Scottish Government policies, however this is complicated by the lack of clarity on the side of the UK Government.

It is expected that the government will, at some stage, set out how Mr Sunak’s intervention will impact key Scottish net zero targets, if at all.

MSPs voted 86 to 29 in favour of an unamended Scottish Government motion, stating the parliament deeply regretted the change in policy from the UK Government.