Andrew Marr: Rishi Sunak has found a ‘target to attack’ in net zero 'U-turn' but risks alienating others

20 September 2023, 18:46 | Updated: 20 September 2023, 18:59

Andrew Marr monologue 20.09

By Jenny Medlicott

Rishi Sunak’s U-turn on net zero pledges reflect a strategy to “target eco-zealots and green extremists” in the hope it will afford them a similar victory to the Uxbridge by-election, Andrew Marr has said.

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Speaking on LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, the presenter opened his show by addressing Rishi Sunak’s speech this evening on his new net zero plans for the country.

The Prime Minister tonight announced a U-turn on a string of flagship environmental measures in the government, sparking a huge row in the Tory party.

Under the new plans, the ban on petrol and diesel cars will be delayed until 2035 and Brits will have “far more time” to make the switch to heat pumps in their homes, among other alterations.

Andrew said: “Tonight [Rishi Sunak] has ditched clear government rules on the switch to electric vehicles, more environmentally friendly heating, and the insulation of houses. Costs too much. Coming too soon.

“He also announced planning changes to connect businesses to the National Grid, and other ideas very familiar from the Labour Party playbook.

“But however you interpret this speech, for all its boasts about net zero it’s clearly a massive retreat from targets and deadlines, which is deeply upsetting industry.”

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The new plans will also see boiler upgrade grants increased to £7,500 with “no strings attached” and no ban on oil and gas in the North Sea.

Andrew continued: “We can see what Rishi Sunak was thinking. He has found a target to attack and people to defend. The target’s eco-zealots, green extremists, the Just Stop Oil mob - people he thinks of as pious and irritating twerps who don't wash their hair enough.

“In the number 10 worldview, they're the sort who back the Labour Party anyway, and after the Conservatives’ unexpected victory at the ULEZ-focused Uxbridge by-election, Sunak wants to go after them even harder.

“And the people Sunak wants to defend or appeal to, are poorer and older voters who don't want to give up their familiar gas boilers, don’t want to recycle and who simply can't afford to get rid of the old banger on the front patio to buy a flash electric car.

“To make the transition - it’s true - they will need more help. But in promising to help them, the prime minister also slaughtered a whole regiment of straw people - regulations that aren't actually happening.”

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During his speech, Mr Sunak announced his decision to “scrap” a number of net zero proposals - many of which had not been mentioned prior.

These included: scrapping taxes on meats and flights, proposed plans to introduce seven recycling bins and ruling out compulsory car sharing.

Andrew continued: “The truth is, he will win over some voters. But the other truth is that other voters will be heading in just the opposite direction. Because, again, however you cut this, it’s a prime minister giving up on hard green targets, enough green already, embracing self-congratulatory thinking in a party which has its share of anti-net zero thinking.

“And across age groups, geographies and class boundaries there are many people who won't want to go anywhere near that. Meanwhile, if Sunak’s target was fanatics or eco zealots, the prime minister has managed to swivel around and hit, instead, a big chunk of British industry and future investment.”

Under the watered down plans, Brits will be able to buy petrol and diesel cars until 2035, which were originally set to be banned in 2030.

The altered plans have sparked a huge row among Tory MPs as well as the car industry.

“Ford is furious. BMW, who earlier this month pledged £600 million to build electric minis at its Oxford Cowley plant, and thought it had commitments from the government on the transition to 2030 to electric vehicles told LBC they badly needed clarity.

“E.ON UK’s chief executive called the prime minister’s announcement ‘a misstep on many levels’ and a threat to prosperity.

“Campaigners for electric vehicles said that billions in investment and thousands of jobs were now being put at risk.

“But a lot of the Tory party tonight is no more impressed. Boris Johnson didn't like it, calling on Sunak not to falter.

“The Tory MP Chris Skidmore called it potentially the biggest mistake of Rishi Sunak's career.

“The Tory Peer Lord Goldsmith, Zac Goldsmith, former environment minister, called for an immediate general election. As WhatsApp groups among Tory MPs went into meltdown - because for all the talk about having ‘meaningful democratic debate from the prime minister, he chose a day when Parliament isn't even sitting.”