Rishi Sunak will not “save the planet by bankrupting the British people”, the home secretary has said, as she rejected claims that the government was backing away from its net zero commitments.
Suella Braverman, one of many Tory MPs on the right of the party who fear green policies may cost the party votes at the general election, said the government’s net zero targets were “goals, not straitjackets”. She commended the prime minister for making “difficult decisions” before his expected move to weaken environmental policies.
Ford, alongside other carmakers, has criticised the move. Its UK chair, Lisa Brankin, said: “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”
“We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV [electric vehicle] market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong. Infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost of living is high.”
The plan to water down key green policies, expected to be announced in a major speech as early as Wednesday afternoon, could include delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and weakening the policy to phase out gas boilers.
Sunak’s intention is to drive a “green wedge” between Labour and the Conservatives. But he has already opened rifts within his party, with Chris Skidmore, the outgoing Tory MP and former minister who wrote a review of the Tories’ net zero approach, warning about the economic consequences and the Tory peer Zac Goldsmith describing the move as a “moment of shame” for the UK.
Braverman told Times Radio: “We’ve achieved a huge amount in the last decade … but ultimately, we have to adopt a pragmatic approach, a proportionate approach, and one that also serves our goals. And we’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.
“I commend the prime minister for making difficult decisions, putting the interests of the economy first, putting the interests of British workers first, putting the interests of household costs first. That’s how we’re going to grow the economy. That’s how we’re going to protect people’s livelihoods.”
The prime minister is also expected to drop plans for new energy efficiency targets for private rented homes after ministers considered imposing fines on landlords who failed to upgrade their properties.
The home secretary refused to say whether the government had spoken to the electric car industry before shifting the government’s net zero stance, adding: “We’re only going to achieve that net zero target whereby people and the British people can go about their daily lives using their cars, using the facilities that are available to them, in a pragmatic way.”
Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans could lead to motorists not switching to electric vehicles because the overall message was “confusing”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a bit of a concern really. The industry has and continues to invest billions of pounds into these new technologies, electrified vehicles, battery vehicles, both abroad and here in the UK.
“And indeed, the government has backed the industry with investments into Tata’s battery plant in Somerset, Cowley for BMW, so we’re questioning what is the strategy here, because we need to shift the mobility of road transport away from fossil fuels towards sustainable transport. We don’t quite know what’s going to happen now.”
The former Cop26 president Sir Alok Sharma said watering down the commitments would be “incredibly damaging for business confidence, for inward investment, if the political consensus that we have forged in our country on the environment and climate action is fractured”.
“And, frankly, I really do not believe that it’s going to help any political party electorally which chooses to go down this path,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
On Tuesday, the prime minister said the government remained committed to the net zero target but planned to hit it in a “better, more proportionate” way.
He said politicians of “all the stripes” had not been honest about “costs and trade-offs”. In an apparent dig at Boris Johnson, he accused previous governments of taking “the easy way out, saying we can have it all”.
Sunak recommitted to the target of net zero emissions by 2050, insisting his government was not “losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments” on climate change.
Sunak’s move comes after the former prime minister Liz Truss said the push to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 had been “institutionalised before it actually has democratic consent” and urged the government to delay or drop some key measures to help poorer families.
Craig Mackinlay, the leader of the Tory Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which has been sceptical of the government’s policies, said the expected announcements by Sunak were “sensible and pragmatic”.
Labour’s Darren Jones, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, told LBC the party was committed to banning sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.