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Home secretary Suella Braverman has suggested some of the UK government’s net zero pledges are “arbitrary”, “punitive” and “totally unrealistic”, as Downing Street prepares to water down its green agenda.
Braverman told the BBC on Wednesday that ministers must 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.
Braverman’s striking criticism of what has until now been government policy comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to delay measures intended to turn Britain into a net zero carbon economy.
The major policy pivot, which could be announced as soon as Wednesday, has sparked a fierce backlash from some automotive industry figures, environmental campaigners and Conservative MPs, but been welcomed by net zero sceptics in Sunak’s party.
Sunak was forced to make a statement on Tuesday night after the BBC reported that he was considering pushing back a planned ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030 until 2035, and a ban on new off-grid oil boilers from 2026 to 2035.
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.
Sunak said he would unveil more details in a speech 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, 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”.
The prospect of delays has also elicited an angry response from the automotive industry, where car manufacturers have invested in electric vehicles on the basis of the existing target for banning new petrol and diesel cars.
Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK, said the existing target 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,” said Brankin, in a statement reported by Sky News.
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 a raft of environmental groups have criticised proposals to scale back the UK’s net zero pledges.