Labour’s civil war over Ulez has escalated after a frontbencher broke ranks to attack the expansion of the London scheme just hours before it came into force.
Justin Madders, the shadow minister for employment rights and protections, said Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, should listen to concerned residents and reflect on whether “this really is the right time to be going ahead” with the controversial extension to outer London.
His intervention came as pressure grows on Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, to stop the expansion, which comes into force on Tuesday.
The scheme will expand from eight to all 32 London boroughs from midnight on Tuesday, with vehicles that fail to meet certain emissions standards incurring a £12.50 daily charge. Drivers who fail to pay and are caught face a £180 penalty, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
Speaking to LBC Radio on Monday, Mr Madders said Mr Khan “probably needs to be listening to some of the callers you’ve been having on and how it’s affecting them, and think about whether this really is the right time to be going ahead with it”.
“We know there’s a massive cost of living crisis at the moment, and asking people to shell out thousands to buy a new vehicle or pay £12.50 every day to go on the road is just an expense too many, too much at this time,” he added.
Andy McDonald, a former shadow transport minister, told The Telegraph: “Poor air quality causing premature deaths, and the existential crisis of global warming, means urgent action is needed. But the costs should not be borne by working people. It’s up to government to come up with alternative fiscal solutions.”
Mr Khan has offered people cash to upgrade their old cars so they can avoid having to pay the charge. However, critics have warned that the scrappage payments do not go far enough.
On the eve of the expansion, local leaders warned that it was set to create a “hard border”, as the Mayor has still not secured the cooperation of six of seven neighbouring councils to help enforce fines.
He has been banned from placing cameras or signs on land outside the London boundary, leaving the scheme open to claims from drivers who are hit with penalties without seeing any warning before entering the zone.
Andrew Jeffries, the leader of Thurrock Council in Essex, told The Telegraph the row over sign placement could make the rules “unenforceable”, while Richard Roberts, the leader of Hertfordshire County Council, warned of a “new tax border” and said Tuesday would be a “sorry day” when a “very, very unfair scheme picks on those least able to pay”.
John Spellar, a former Labour transport minister, called for the expansion to be paused to allow a “reset” in policy at the Department for Transport.
He said: “If you go back on the history of this, this has been particularly driven by central government. I know people are making this a party political point against Sadiq Khan, but Boris Johnson was in favour of this when he was mayor.
“This is being driven out of the department, the ideology of the Department of Transport. Grant Shapps was one of the worst offenders. There needs to be a change of mindset.
“The policy seems to have become unfocused in terms of what we’re really trying to achieve, and seems to be being seen as an anti-driver policy. We need a reset to get back to basics, and that must include the ideologues in the Department of Transport. Ministers need to get a grip. While that reset is taking place, it will be sensible to pause it.”
Sir Keir has voiced concern about the cost impact of the Ulez expansion, but has not explicitly called for it to be delayed or scrapped.
In the wake of his party’s defeat in last month’s Uxbridge by-election – widely viewed as a de facto referendum on the rollout – he said “there’s no denying that Ulez was the reason we didn’t win” and “the Mayor needs to reflect on that”.
Mr Khan vowed to press ahead with the scheme. While he said he accepted that some people had “concerns”, he warned “we can’t kick the can down the road” when it comes to the climate crisis.
He insisted Ulez will “improve air quality” and prevent 4,000 premature deaths from pollution, despite criticism that the claims are based on “flawed” or “selective” scientific data.