Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have joined a growing Tory backbench rebellion against Rishi Sunak’s refusal to allow new onshore wind projects in England, in another challenge to the levelling up bill.
The former prime ministers are among about 20 Conservative MPs to have signed an amendment tabled by Simon Clarke, who served as a minister under Johnson and Truss, that would end the de facto ban on new onshore wind that has been in place since 2014.
While Truss supported the resumption of onshore wind, Johnson’s decision to back the amendment is striking given that he did not seek to reverse the longstanding policy when he was prime minister.
Clarke’s amendment would oblige the government to change planning rules within six months to allow new projects.
It is the second major challenge to the bill. Earlier this week, No 10 pulled a scheduled vote on the bill after a rebellion over planning policy. An amendment led by the former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers and backed by more than 50 Tory MPs seeks to scrap mandatory local housing targets and make them advisory only.
The addition of Johnson and Truss to the rebel ranks adds to the pressure on Sunak over the issue of windfarms, and the wider sense that he lacks authority as the third prime minister since the election, and one who was appointed without a vote of Tory members.
Since 2014, planning rules have in effect barred any new onshore windfarms in England under a tightening of restrictions imposed by David Cameron’s government after pressure from Tory activists.
The push for greater energy independence since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted calls for this to end. Truss had pledged to change the rules but was ousted before she was able to do so.
During the summer Tory leadership campaign, which Truss won, Sunak set out what he called an “energy sovereignty strategy”, which maintained the ban on new onshore wind, prompting Labour to accuse him of “economic illiteracy”.
While the latest public list of signatories to Clarke’s amendment shows just two other Tory MPs, Virginia Crosbie and Katherine Fletcher, plus Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, Clarke told the Guardian that about 20 had now committed support.
As well as Johnson and Truss, these included other former ministers such as Stephen Crabb and Robin Walker.
Clarke, who served as chief secretary to the Treasury under Johnson, and as levelling up secretary in Truss’s seven-week premiership, said: “This really is an issue that unites opinion from all wings of the Conservative party. We should let local communities decide whether or not they want onshore wind, perhaps linked to sensible incentives from energy companies, and not apply a blanket ban.
“Onshore wind can lower our constituents’ bills, boost our energy independence and safeguard our environment, and I am delighted so many colleagues are supporting this important amendment.”