Rishi Sunak put on the spot for scrapping bans that 'simply don’t exist'

  • Rishi Sunak said he was scrapping taxes on meat, dairy and flying.

  • Several policies were rolled back on Wednesday as part of a rethink on net zero.

  • The PM was accused of ‘pretending to halt frightening proposals that simply do not exist’.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech on the plans for net-zero commitments in the briefing room at 10 Downing Street, London. Picture date: Wednesday September 20, 2023.
Rishi Sunak announced his plans for a rollback on net-zero commitments on Wednesday. (PA) (Justin Tallis, PA Images)

Rishi Sunak has faced some awkward questioning after critics claimed that several announcements on net zero policies the previous day included the scrapping of policies that didn't exist in the first place.

In a speech in Downing Street on Wednesday, the prime minister said he will be easing a series of green policies while setting out a “new approach” designed to protect “hard-pressed British families” from “unacceptable costs”.

Among the rollbacks included a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 being pushed back to 2035 and changes to the government’s plan to phase out new boilers.

But eyebrows were raised when Sunak announced a scrapping of other “heavy-handed measures” that do not appear to have been government policy to begin with.

They included banning a tax on meat and flying, compulsory car-sharing and forcing people to recycle in seven different bins.

Taxes on meat and dairy or on flying are neither government nor Labour Party policy.

Sunak’s claims were described as “smoke and mirrors” as the prime minister faced a backlash from environmental campaigners for his speech.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech during a press conference on the net zero target, at the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London, Wednesday Sept. 20, 2023. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is preparing to water down some of Britain's environmental commitments, saying the country must fight climate change without penalizing workers and consumers. (Justin Tallis/Pool via AP)
Rishi Sunak was accused of scrapping policies that don’t exist. (PA) (Justin Tallis, Associated Press)

Rishi Sunak’s net zero speech: Read more

Dale Vince, a green energy industrialist who has supported groups including Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, said that the only policy being changed was the “Conservative policy”.

He told Sky News: “I think Rishi Sunak today is like the wizard of Oz. He’s sat behind his big curtain and he’s trying to dazzle everyone with smoke and mirrors.”

Tory peer Zac Goldsmith - a former environment minister - said the scrapping "pledges" were “cynical beyond belief” and the prime minister was “pretending to halt frightening proposals that simply do not exist”.

He added: “Sunak is chucking the environment into a political fire purely to score points. It is reprehensible.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke added: “Nobody serious in politics was talking about banning flying, taxing meat etc.”

’No mention of a tax on meat’

As criticism mounted, Sunak was put on the spot on Thursday morning.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sunak referenced the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent non-departmental public body formed under the Climate Change Act to advise the UK on tackling and preparing for climate change.

Sunak claimed their report talked about it being “particularly important that we see an ‘accelerated shift’ in our diet away from meat and dairy”.

But host Nick Robinson said he had spoken to the committee and they said there was “no mention of a tax on meat in their report”.

Responding, Sunak said the report suggested that government needed to “implement measures” to bring about changes to our diet.

London, UK. 19th Sep, 2023. An Oxfam protestor dressed as Rishi Sunak is seen outside Parliament. Oxfam's ''Make Polluters Pay'' campaign is calling on large oil and gas companies such as BP and Shell, to pay more taxes to help raise funds to aid communities devastated by climate change. (Credit Image: © Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
An Oxfam protestor dressed as Rishi Sunak outside Parliament for their ’Make Polluters Pay’ on the day the prime minister rolled back net zero policies. (PA) (ZUMA Press, ZUMA Press Inc)

On forced car-sharing, Sunak again said the CCC report talks about “ride-sharing solutions” and recommended “demand side measures” to bring that about, which the prime minister said was “otherwise known as compulsion or taxes”.

He added: “They are very open about taxes that should be used to send a signal about reducing travel demand.”

Following Sunak’s speech on Wednesday, where he spoke about seven bins needed for recycling, journalist Paul Waugh revealed official Defra guidance that appears to contradict the prime minister’s claims.

The guidance on the Simpler Recycling scheme states that materials “won’t need to be separated at home” and that “whilst it was never the case that seven bins would be needed by households, this new plan ensures it”.

But Sunak said on Thursday morning that the Environment Act contains “a very clear statement about moving to consistent collection for recycling, the clear implication of which is seven bins”.

He added: “These are all things that have been raised by very credible people about ways to meet our net zero obligations.”

Slough, Berkshire, UK. 3rd August, 2023. Overflowing bins and black bin bags outside homes in Slough, Berkshire. Slough Borough Council (SBC) have recently introduced a change to residents' bin collections with a view to encouraging residents to recycle more. Grey bins with general waste including food, are now collected once a fortnight rather than once a week, with recycling in red bins, being collected on the alternate week. Some Slough residents are now reporting issues with maggots and smells from uncollected rubbish left on streets which is only likely to get worse once the temperatures
Rishi Sunak said he had scrapped a policy of seven recycling bins being needed in every home. (PA) (Maureen McLean)

In a press release released following the speech, the Conservative Party said the scrapped “policies” were recommendations from the CCC.

In relation to recycling, the government had planned to unveil a new strategy in March that would have required households to separate seven types of waste into different containers, but the plans were delayed until after local elections amid concern over a backlash from voters.

Yahoo News UK has contacted the Climate Change Committee and the Tory party for a response.

How many people in the UK know what net zero is?

While net zero is major government policy, the proportion of people in the UK who are fully aware of the concept and its aims is relatively low.

Net zero is the policy of not adding anything to the total amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are burned in homes or factories, or to power transport.

Farming and landfill result in an increase in methane emissions.

A survey found that most people had some idea about the concept of net zero. (Statista)
A survey found that most people had some idea about the concept of net zero. (Statista)

The result of these emissions is an increase in global temperatures due to the sun’s energy being trapped.

According to a survey conducted this year by Statista, just 15% of the respondents were highly aware of the concept of net zero.

Most people (60%) were either fairly or a little aware of the concept, while 11% of respondents had not heard of it at all.

The issue now marks a dividing line between the Tories and Labour in the run-up to the next general election.