Lord Deben, a former Conservative minister and chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), has criticised Rishi Sunak’s decision to water down key environmental policies, calling them “not to be conservative at all” and warning that it will damage businesses and undermine trust.
Deben says that Sunak’s decisions have undermined the Conservative Party’s values and damaged key industries.
“I am a Conservative because I think that free enterprise works and that you have to work with industry and the private sector to make this country richer and better, so you can help the poorest,” he said. “To run policies which actually undermine some of our biggest industries seems to me not to be conservative at all.”
“The Government has failed the offshore wind industry, it has failed the motorcar industry, just like it once failed the housebuilding industry,” Deben said.
The rollback comes after a number of Conservative MPs, including Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jacob Rees-Mogg, expressed concerns about the government’s net zero plans, arguing that they are too costly and will damage the economy.
On the other side, Sunak faces increasing pressure from others within his own party to do more to tackle climate change. Talking of the recent announcement, Chris Skidmore, a former Conservative minister and author of the government’s recent net zero review said he felt the rollback is “potentially the greatest mistake” of Sunak’s premiership.
Sunak has defended his approach, saying it is necessary to protect the environment and create jobs in the green sector. He has also said he has taken the decision to put “the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.”
One industry that has been quick to comment is the motor industry, for which Sunak pushed back the ban on petrol cars by five years to 2035. Lord Deben blames this pushback, saying such policy reversals destroy trust in government.
“These changes made industry extremely cross because they’ve invested billions and this will make it more difficult for them to get a proper return,” he said.
“That’s why he received such an attack from the whole of the motor industry. What business wants from the Government is ambition, certainty, and consistency. This change reduced the certainty, was inconsistent and not nearly ambitious enough.”
It remains to be seen whether Lord Deben’s criticism will have any impact on Sunak’s net zero plans. However, it is clear that the issue is becoming increasingly divisive within the Conservative Party.
Even before Sunak’s changes, the UK’s net zero plans had been criticised as inadequate. Earlier this month it was revealed that green groups are taking the government to court (again) over the plan’s lack of detail and ambition. Further back, the CCC’s latest annual report to parliament also found the plans to be “not ambitious enough” and lacking in key areas.
The UK’s current net zero plans had been criticised even before recent changes, earlier this month, if was revealed that the government is being taken to court again by green groups, again, who feel the existing net zero plan is unlawful and earlier this year the CCC’s latest annual progress report to Parliament suggested that existing plans are currently “not ambitious enough” and “lack detail” in key areas.
Background on Lord Deben
Lord Deben, formerly known as John Gummer, was first elected to Parliament in 1970 as MP for Lewisham West. He served as chairman of the Conservative Party from 1983 to 1985, then as Secretary of State for agriculture, fisheries, and food from 1989 to 1993, and finally as environment secretary from 1993 to 1997. He was created a life peer in 2010 and appointed chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) two years later.
After 10 years in the role, Lord Deben stepped down as chair of the CCC in 2022. Professor Piers Forster was appointed interim chair of the Committee until a permanent replacement was found.
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