Tory MPs urge Rishi Sunak to put petrol ban on hold or lose next election

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Image: Getty)

Support for a ban on new petrol and diesel cars has plummeted as Tory MPs urge Rishi Sunak to ditch the policy and go for broke on energy.

Polling found 35 per cent oppose the Government’s plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, with just 31 per cent supporting the policy.

It’s a major shift in opinion from two years ago, when a survey found 44 per cent supported the ban, and suggests motorists are becoming more concerned as the deadline nears.

The issue of energy and the use of fossil fuels is likely to become a key battleground in the next general election. A rare Tory by-election win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip – Boris Johnson’s old seat – was put down to opposition to Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s crackdown on polluting cars.

Polling from Redfield and Wilton Strategies showed that half the country fear being unable to pay their energy bills this year.

It also found strong backing for the Prime Minister’s decision to expand North Sea oil and gas.

READ MORE: Petrol and diesel owners ‘furious’ with new changes branded ‘tax on the poor’

At present, the Government is sticking with plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

But a number of Tory MPs want Mr Sunak to ditch opposition to traditional combustion engine vehicles, with one describing the policy as “quasi-religious”.

One former Cabinet minister said: “When it all seemed a long time away it was easy to support. Suddenly people are realising a new electric car will be 50 per cent more expensive, possibly more expensive to run, and they are asking why they want to do that.”

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has privately raised concerns about proposals to introduce the early stages of the policy as soon as next year.

A Government consultation set out plans to ensure 22 per cent of all new cars and vans are “zero emission” in 2024, and to fine manufacturers £15,000 per car and £18,000 per van for each petrol and diesel vehicle over the target.

Ms Badenoch has told the Cabinet that carmakers such as Honda, Toyota and Ford are warning they will be unable to comply. The car industry employs 780,000 people across the country.

Honda, Ford and Toyota may not be able to comply

Honda, Ford and Toyota may not be able to comply with the petrol ban (Image: Getty)

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is warning that the shift to electric vehicles poses a security risk, as China largely controls the supply of minerals such as nickel, copper, lithium, and cobalt which are used in the vehicles.

There is also concern about the need for new infrastructure such as overhead cables and pylons to meet the huge increase in demand for electricity caused partly by electric vehicles.

A report commissioned by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero last week said the Government should spend up to £20 million a year on advertising campaigns to explain why new infrastructure was essential. It warned: “The visual impact of new infrastructure on communities can often lead to local opposition to projects.”

A number of Conservative backbenchers are pushing the Government to rethink the ban on electric cars.

One Conservative MP said: “My constituents are grounded in common sense and do not agree with the quasi-religious approach to electrification and eco policies.

“Everybody can agree to a greener planet and have pragmatic targets – but they want to see a transition that does not penalise those who can least afford these changes, and they want to make sure that all alternatives are being explored.”

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch recommends a hold

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch recommends a hold on petrol ban (Image: Getty)

Insiders say Mr Sunak is “cautious” about green issues when compared to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was far more enthusiastic.

A Conservative MP said: “I think the Government is moving in the right direction, and this is the route to electoral success.

“If they are able to get rid of the high costs of green policy and show they are making people’s lives better and cheaper, then suddenly it looks as if the next election is winnable”.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We remain committed to phasing out the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 – providing certainty to industry and helping UK car manufacturers invest in the future.

“We continue to engage closely with industry on the transition.”

Labour is committed to the 2030 ban. Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said: “Electric vehicles are already cheap to run, and will soon be cheaper to make than petrol cars. More delay means higher costs for motorists, billions in investment lost, and more good jobs shipped overseas.”

The public is also worried about the cost of energy, with 27 per cent saying they are “very concerned” about their ability to afford gas and electricity bills this year while another 23 per cent say they are “fairly concerned”.

Our survey found strong support for the Government’s decision last week to grant hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas licences, a policy slammed by Labour as “a disaster for the climate”, with 42 per cent supporting the plan and 25 per cent opposed.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents the car industry, has warned that the Government must work with carmakers to encourage a switch to electric vehicles rather than imposing extra costs.

Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “Car manufacturers are investing billions in electric vehicles to deliver choice for consumers and drive uptake.

“There are differing strategies by brand, however, so any Zero Emission Mandate must be reflective of every manufacturer’s approach, including those who produce in the UK.

“The flexibilities proposed by Government should facilitate delivery, not add further cost or complexity nor lead to unfair market distortion. Accelerated market transformation is proven to work fastest when mandates are matched with generous incentives and, for automotive electrification, there is also a need for commensurate and binding targets on infrastructure delivery.”

Comment by Philip van Scheltinga

The cost-of-living crisis is forcing a rethink of some green policies. Two years ago, under very different economic circumstances, Redfield & Wilton research showed 44 percent of British voters supported the Government’s plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Only 27 percent opposed the target at that time.

But now, in polling conducted exclusively for The Sunday Express, latest research finds that 35 percent oppose and 31 percent support the upcoming ban.

That means that support for this key government policy has fallen by a third in just two years. In fact, twice (48 percent) as many of those who voted Conservative at that last election now say they oppose the planned ban than support it (25 percent).

This explains the sudden changes in policy direction from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak since the recent by-election results. The Conservatives have begun to recognise that voters have a new scepticism about the overall cost of green policies.

Fuel prices, energy bills, supermarket items, dinners at restaurants and even holidays abroad – inflation means every day expenses now cost more.

Ask any voter what the most important issue facing the country is, and almost half will cite the cost of living or the broader economy at large, whilst just three percent name climate change. That doesn’t mean the issue is unimportant, but there is a very clear priority.

While there is broad support among the electorate for green and environmental policies, these new findings will count as a warning that voters are increasingly uneasy about how continued moves towards net zero will hit them directly in the pocket.

Philip van Scheltinga is the Director of Research at Redfield & Wilton Strategies.

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