Rishi Sunak's pivot to net zero outlier kickstarts election campaign in all but name - Analysis by Christopher Hope

Rishi Sunak setting out his net zero policy

Rishi Sunak setting out his net zero policy

Christopher Hope

By Christopher Hope

Published: 20/09/2023

- 16:38

Updated: 20/09/2023

- 18:23

GB News' Christopher Hope ponders how No10 must be feeling about the Prime Minister's change of tact on net zero

It is like the past 11 months never happened. Today Boris Johnson and several of his allies lined up to attack plans by Rishi Sunak to push back net zero targets.

Mr Johnson said in a statement that businesses “must have certainty about our net zero commitments” as they make huge bets of their money on the UK's commitment to cutting emissions.

“It is those investments that will produce a low-carbon future – at lower costs for British families,” he said.

“It is crucial that we give those businesses confidence that Government is still committed to net zero and can see the way ahead.

“We cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country.”

That came after more attacks by Johnson's old friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, and Sir Alok Sharma, the former COP26 minister.

Goldsmith said the plans were a “moment of shame” for Mr Sunak, adding: “We need an election. Now.”

Sir Alok also made himself available for a high-profile interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to attack the plans.

Make no mistake - these were hostile acts. Allies of the PM - and they make up the vast bulk of the Parliamentary party - would have held back until he made the announcements.

Rishi Sunak (left) and Boris Johnson (right)

Rishi Sunak (left) and Boris Johnson (right)


It has been a grim 24 hours for Mr Sunak. Last night his draft plans were leaked to the BBC; then this morning the draft agenda of a Cabinet meeting to sign them off was leaked to LBC journalist Lewis Goodall.

No wonder some in Westminster are muttering about a 'green blob' of MPs, officials and interest groups trying to thwart the PM's plans.

But I wonder whether this all plays into Mr Sunak's hand.

If nothing else the row puts him on the side of hardpressed families suspicious of the rush to net zero at any cost.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak's pivot has been described as kickstarting the general election campaign


There is a difference between being a leader and an outlier on net zero; it seems that Mr Sunak has chosen the former.

His team will have looked at the result of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election in Mr Johnson's own seat and noted how local upset at Sadiq Khan's expansion of the ULEZ zone stopped Labour taking the seat.

Can such a result be replicated across the UK, as part of a Tory fightback in the polls, which have had Labour in the lead by 20 points for months? Mr Sunak and his team hope so.

If nothing else the past 24 hours - while chaotic - might be the moment when Mr Sunak starts to turn the Tory party's fortunes around, as well as uniting the party's base behind him.

No wonder Mr Johnson and his allies are not happy. Slowly but surely, dividing lines are opening up between the Tories and Labour. The 2024 general election campaign is underway in all but name.

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