Rishi Sunak has been accused of undermining the government’s climate policy as he vowed to boost the production of oil and gas in the North Sea through a new deregulation drive.
The Tory leadership contender has set out plans to extract more domestic fossil fuels, claiming that he will order a new licensing round for oil and gas drilling permits “immediately” – with a further round from 2024 – if he becomes PM.
But climate campaigners told The Independent that his proposals are “utterly bewildering”. They argued that the proposals do nothing to help cut soaring energy bills, and put Mr Sunak’s commitment to the legal target of cutting emissions to zero by 2050 in doubt.
Jamie Peters, of Friends of the Earth, said Mr Sunak’s plan was “inconsistent” with his pledge to act on climate change, adding: “To announce plans for more oil and gas extraction as the country bakes for the second time this year … is utterly bewildering.”
Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said expanding oil and gas production “will do nothing to bring down bills this decade, and probably won’t ever”, adding: “Has Rishi Sunak just been sat under an air conditioning unit all day?”
Pointing to another wave of soaring temperatures, wildfires and drought across England, Mr Parr said: “His plans for energy independence have completely ignored the fact that we’re also grappling with a climate crisis.”
Tessa Khan, director of Uplift, an anti-fossil-fuel campaign group, said Mr Sunak’s proposal “isn’t a serious plan for solving the energy price crisis” – saying new renewable projects could be up and running far more quickly.
The climate campaigner said new licensing of oil and gas fields would likely take “decades” before they produced anything, and would “only serve to lock us into an expensive source of energy for far, far longer than is necessary”.
Mr Sunak’s campaign team said he would “deregulate” and “drive up North Sea gas production”, vowing to change the rules about the kind of gas that can be extracted in order to boost production from this winter.
As part of a plan to make Britain “energy independent” by 2045, Mr Sunak also pledged to allow more fracking, so long as the controversial drilling of shale gas gets local consent, as well as to reform licensing regimes to scale up offshore wind and nuclear power. He has previously vowed to uphold a ban on new onshore wind projects.
Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said Mr Sunak’s plan won’t “tackle the bills” this autumn and winter, adding: “Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss just don’t get it when it comes to the scale of the emergency families are facing.”
Sir Keir Starmer has promised to set out on Monday a “comprehensive” plan to deal with rising energy bills, dismissing accusations that he has failed to offer a compelling alternative to the government’s position on the deepening cost of living crisis.
His party has pointed to new analysis showing that its “warm homes plan” to make properties more energy efficient would save over 19 million families more than £1,000 on their annual energy bill.
It follows fresh blue-on-blue fighting between senior Tories in the increasingly bitter race to find Boris Johnson’s successor.
Robert Buckland has become the first cabinet minister to switch his support from Mr Sunak to Ms Truss in the Tory leadership race. The Welsh secretary wrote in the Telegraph that he was convinced by Ms Truss’s plans for a “high-growth” economy.
Deputy PM Dominic Raab, a Sunak backer, denied that the former chancellor had behaved treacherously towards the outgoing prime minister, and claimed that Ms Truss had been drumming up support for a leadership bid at her “Fizz for Liz” champagne dinner last year.
“Anyone who thinks Rishi stabbed Boris in the back is kidding themselves,” Mr Raab told The Times on Saturday. “Rishi worked hard to make the relationship with the prime minister work.”
But culture secretary Nadine Dorries fired back at Mr Raab on Twitter, saying: “Liz may have had drinks with MPs – but she did not resign her job, walk away, furtively campaign with MPs for votes, register a website, and was not campaign-ready or part of a planned coup.”
The latest campaign squabbles come as a poll for The Independent found Ms Truss comfortably out in front in support among Tory voters. Ms Truss is favoured by 49 per cent of those who vote for the party, ahead of Mr Sunak on 25 per cent, according to the Savanta ComRes poll.