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February 24, 2024

Tory Civil War Brews As Net Zero Tsar Quits Over New Oil Drilling Plans

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Jan 5, 2024

Long-Serving MP Resigns Party Whip In Protest Over Controversial Licensing Policy

Long-serving Conservative MP and former minister Chris Skidmore has dramatically resigned the Tory party whip in protest over the government’s controversial new oil and gas licensing policy.

Skidmore, who was Energy Minister under Theresa May and more recently served as Boris Johnson’s Net Zero Tsar, announced his resignation in a publicly released letter to the Prime Minister on Friday. He said he will stand down as MP for Kingswood at the next election in protest at the government’s new legislation which aims to expand North Sea oil and gas production.

The shock move threatens to trigger another costly by-election for Rishi Sunak’s administration and exposes deep divisions within Tory ranks over environmental policy. It also hands ammunition to opposition parties who argue the Conservatives cannot be trusted on their net zero commitments.

Skidmore Decries “Morally Indefensible” Plans That “Fly In The Face Of Climate Change Targets”

In his strongly-worded letter, Skidmore wrote: “I cannot personally justify endorsing a policy I fundamentally disagree with, and so have decided I will be standing down at the next general election, after 13 years’ service.”

He called the government’s new North Sea Transition Authority Bill to issue over 100 new North Sea exploration licenses “morally indefensible”. The Bill recently passed its second reading in Parliament by 297 votes to 219 and is expected to gain Royal Assent later this year.

“The climate crisis we face is too important to politicise or ignore. By moving ahead with the fossil fuel projects approved in the British Energy Security Strategy, the Government risks losing a generation of voters who still believe that we genuinely want to become a net zero nation,” he added.

The MP for Kingswood in South Gloucestershire since 2010 previously served as Universities Minister and said he felt “a sense of regret” at having to resign, but his conscience would not allow him to “stand by policies I fundamentally disagree with”.

He also warned the plans will likely “fly in the face of international climate change targets”. The UK is currently committed under law to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

Leadership Under Growing Pressure Over Environmental Credentials

The shock move will pile further pressure on Rishi Sunak’s government over its environmental credentials. The new North Sea drilling plans have already been widely criticised by climate campaigners.

It also threatens to trigger a difficult by-election in Skidmore’s ultra-marginal Kingswood seat which he won by just 4,000 votes in 2019 and where the Lib Dems are the main challenger.

Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem Climate Change Spokesperson, said: “Chris Skidmore’s resignation demonstrates that this Conservative government has no real commitment to tackling the climate emergency.”

The opposition argue Sunak’s administration is already vulnerable on the environment after it decided to allow the new coal mine in Cumbria to go ahead and has presided over consistently rising emissions from transport.

This latest resignation also underscores the deep tensions on climate policy within Tory ranks. Many backbench Conservative MPs criticised the North Sea drilling plans, arguing they undermine the UK’s leadership position ahead of crucial international climate talks.

Net Zero Leadership Role Thrown Into Doubt

As host of the major UN COP26 climate summit in 2021, Britain sought to position itself as a global leader on cutting emissions. Chris Skidmore himself played a key role in this agenda, serving as the PM’s Net Zero Tsar under Boris Johnson.

But the latest move throws into doubt whether the UK can still plausibly claim leadership status on environmental issues. Other countries are likely to see this as evidence of backsliding on commitments.

It may also damage Britain’s efforts to encourage other nations to follow its lead in setting ambitious net zero targets. The UK was the first major economy in the world to set a 2050 net zero goal under Theresa May – but many developing countries especially still need persuading to take similarly bold action.

Battle Rages Between Tory “Green Wing” And Net Zero Sceptics

The resignation is the latest skirmish in an ongoing Tory battle between pro-green MPs and a vocal minority of net zero sceptics on the right of the party.

A hardcore element of Conservative backbenchers have waged a campaign against ambitious climate targets, arguing they impose too heavy costs on consumers and businesses. This tension exploded into the open last autumn when Liz Truss’s short-lived government toyed with watering down net zero policies, triggering severe market turmoil.

Chris Skidmore has been a leading voice countering the anti-green arguments. In his resignation letter, he wrote: “We should be accelerating policies such as energy efficiency, ending our reliance on fossil fuels, investing in technologies of the future.”

His decision to quit doesn’t yet signal full-on civil war within Tory ranks. Most MPs still back the government’s overall net zero direction, even if they have misgivings about expanding North Sea production.

But Skidmore’s move underscores the environment remains a major faultline – and an area where Rishi Sunak faces threats from multiple directions. His challenge is to unite his party and country behind an ambitious green transition that is politically and economically sustainable. Judging by this latest setback, that still remains a distant prospect.

What Next After Shock Resignation?

Attention now turns to finding a replacement Conservative candidate in time for the next election, expected to be held in late 2024. Kingswood is the Conservatives’ 72nd most marginal seat making it tough to retain. Local party bosses will come under pressure to select another environmentally-minded candidate to hold off the Lib Dem threat.

The bigger unknown is whether this triggers a domino effect with other Tory MPs also considering resigning the whip in solidarity with Skidmore. So far there is no sign of coordinated backbench revolt, but tensions are running high so further resignations cannot be ruled out.

Opposition parties have been quick to seize on Skidmore’s move to argue the Tories lag behind public opinion on climate change. They will likely cite this to push for even faster emissions cuts while also painting Rishi Sunak as beholden to his party’s “anti-green right wing”.

For now the Prime Minister is standing firm, insisting the North Sea policy is vital for Britain’s energy security. But Chris Skidmore’s shock resignation demonstrates the political risks he faces in holding that line. This latest Tory split over net zero leaves Rishi Sunak with some tough battles ahead in reconciling his party’s warring factions.

Timeline of Key Events

Date Event
May 2019 Chris Skidmore appointed as Energy Minister under PM Theresa May
November 2020 Boris Johnson appoints Skidmore as Net Zero Tsar
October 2022 Liz Truss government unveils mini-budget threatening to water down net zero policies – later reversed after backlash
December 2022 Rishi Sunak’s new government confirms plans to expand North Sea oil and gas production through new licensing round
5th January 2024 Skidmore publicly resigns Tory whip in protest at North Sea drilling plans
Late 2024 Next general election expected to be held – Skidmore says he will stand down as MP
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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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