Sunak announces series of U-turns on net zero pledges


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Ford has criticised anticipated moves by the UK government to delay its net zero efforts, even as home secretary Suella Braverman attacked previous government commitments as “arbitrary”, “punitive” and “totally unrealistic”.

Car manufacturers have invested in electric vehicle manufacturing on the basis of Britain’s current pledge to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 — a policy that is now in doubt.

Downing Street has not denied a BBC report that changes being considered include pushing back a planned ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 until 2035. 

The reported move is part of a big shift to water down the country’s net zero goals over the next decade, which could be announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as soon as Wednesday.

Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK, said the existing 2030 target for cars was a “vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future” as she highlighted the company’s £430mn investment in its UK electrification development and manufacturing facilities.

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” Brankin said.

People briefed on Sunak’s thinking told the Financial Times they also expected the government to soften a plan to ban the installation of new household gas boilers from 2035.

The move to delay net zero policies comes as the government, which is lagging far behind in the polls, is seeking to make the cost of green policies an electoral issue and highlight the difference with Labour.

The pivot has sparked a fierce backlash from some automotive industry figures, environmental campaigners and Conservative MPs, but has been welcomed by net zero sceptics in Sunak’s party. 

Braverman told the BBC on Wednesday that ministers should not treat environmental goals as “straitjackets” or risk targets that “ruin people’s personal budgets” in light of cost of living pressures.

“We’re not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people,” Braverman said, insisting that moves to curb carbon emissions needed to be taken in a more “sustainable . . . mature . . . pragmatic way”.

“The costs of achieving these arbitrary targets has to be taken into account . . . We don’t want to set targets which are totally unrealistic and punitive,” she added. 

Sunak has said he would unveil more details this week, promising more “realism” and a “proportionate” state approach to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — an overarching target that he said he would not abandon.

In a veiled swipe at Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, who announced many of the government’s most ambitious net zero targets, Sunak added: “For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs.”

Braverman applauded Sunak for “taking difficult decisions . . . in the national interest, in the interest of economic growth, and in the interests of household budgets”.

However, Tory MPs who have championed the green agenda lashed out at proposals to water down the timetable for green pledges.

Former COP26 president Sir Alok Sharma told the BBC that resiling from the climate action agenda would leave the planet “on life support”.

Sir Simon Clarke, former cabinet minister, said on social media that it was in the Conservatives’ “environmental, economic, moral and (yes) political interests” to “lead on this issue rather than disown it”.

Conservatives on the party’s right flank joined Braverman in welcoming the shift. Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, chair of the net zero scrutiny group, said delaying bans on new fossil fuel cars and oil and gas boilers would be “positive news for UK consumers”.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and several environmental groups have criticised proposals to scale back the UK’s net zero pledges.

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