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Sunak’s green U-turn will do vast damage to our economy, just to win a few votes

Business is outraged at yet another new low for the Conservative Party

Image: The New European

Just when you think that the Tory party can get no lower, when there are no further chances for it to put its own pathetic self-interest ahead of the country’s, when you are fooled into thinking there are some decent common-sense policies it believes in whether they are popular or not; it takes great delight in proving you wrong. 

With its plan to reverse or postpone decades of green policies, the Tory party has reached a new low.  Rishi Sunak’s speech was a disgusting attempt to claim the moral high ground while shafting the economy and the environment.

The Tories pretend they are doing this to avoid a cost-of-living crisis (one, incidentally, they created). They say they are still committed to saving the planet, just a little less quickly. They tell voters that Labour wants to heap unnecessary costs onto them – Sunak’s “five, 10, 15 thousand pounds”. They claim to have stopped policies that were never policies in the first place – like a ban on meat. They say they care deeply about the car driver and the dear old ladies who cannot afford a new boiler.

It is all lies.

But let’s leave aside the unethical and immoral aspects of this disgusting volte-face, and look at its economic consequences alone. The government is doing vast, deliberate damage to the UK business, purely because it thinks there are some short-term votes in it. 

This isn’t on the scale of a tax giveaway the country cannot afford just before an election, or targeting taxpayers’ money in marginal constituencies. Those tricks are small, cheap and tawdry but they are affordable. This structural and probably irreversible damage to the future of the UK and its economy. 

The Conservatives say they are the party of business. Yet they are the party that screwed business over Brexit, and now this is the party of business that has stabbed business in the back.

Just look at the news over the summer. The government spent £0.5 billion “persuading” Tata Motors to build a battery factory in the UK to supply its Jaguar Land Rover car plants as they rapidly changed to electric vehicles. That investment designed for the dash to end new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is now five years too early; maybe JLR should have built the factory in Spain after all.

Tata Steel has just been given another half-a-billion to turn steel manufacturing green. Much of that steel would be destined for the car makers themselves. 

BMW has finally been persuaded to build the new electric Mini in Oxford, rather than mainland Europe or even China. Apparently, they rather stupidly trusted the government’s word that the market for brand-new EVs would be limitless by 2030. What dorks they must be feeling now. 

JLR, BMW, Nissan, Ford and all the other car makers have spent billions, endless hours and huge resources trying to rejig and re-equip whole factories, alter vast supply chains and develop new cars, in the belief that the UK government was at the forefront of the inevitable shift to green cars and a green economy. That belief and faith in the UK government has turned to dust and ashes faster than a Canadian forest. 

Speaking on Radio Four’s Today programme, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Mike Hawes reacted to the news of the government’s U-turn by saying, “the view of the industry is we’re on track for ending fossil fuel vehicles. It’s not for turning back and the UK should be leading it both as a market and as a manufacturer”.

That is polite business speak for “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” 

Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK also waded into the row. She called for “ambition, commitment and consistency” from the government and said, “A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three. We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.”

What does that mean for the UK economy? Well, read the next bit carefully: “The UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future.” In short, Ford has already invested £430 million in the UK and had been planning further investments in order to hit that 2030 deadline. 

What Ford is saying is, why should we bother investing more, when we have wasted £430 million already? How does Ford or anyone else know if the government will change its mind again and extend the introduction of EVs by another five years?”

This is a shot across the bows that no government with a modicum of common sense would ignore – but this one will. 

Ford is already probably whistling in the wind.  Home secretary Suella Braverman now calls the 2030 targets “arbitrary” and “punitive”.  This total reversal of 20 years of government policy, is something that Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth would have been too shamefaced to try. 

British industry has just been told that everything that it thought was set in concrete was purely a mirage, a mistake, a fool’s paradise. Surely, they didn’t take it seriously? 

Of course, the car industry is not the only one that is going to take a massive hit from this, it is just the prime example. 

Have you been investing in developing home insulation products, training staff and winning contracts to make the UK’s homes warmer, greener and cheaper to heat? You’re a fool.

Have you been investing in new gas-free boilers, alternatives to oil-powered central heating, or heat pumps? You are an idiot.

Just set up a company to design, build and sell new kitchen ranges that don’t use gas? You’re dead in the water.

How about winning a contract to build tens of thousands of electric charging points for millions of new cars? Sorry, just wait another five years and we will get back to you.

The list of those directly affected is almost endless, but there are also plenty of other sectors not directly affected yet that will take one look at the untrustworthiness of this government and run for the hills. 

Sunak’s administration just failed to get any bidders for new offshore wind turbines because it set the electricity price too low. Of course, that was an unfortunate mistake, a miscalculation. Or was it?

For green energy to enter the UK’s distribution network, the National Grid needs revamping. Yet Nimby Tory MPs are already fighting every new pylon and substation to the death. They know Sunak will not stand up to them.

Is the UK government really committed to nuclear power? Will EDF or any other nuclear power station builder trust it again? If it can reverse its policy on climate change overnight, why not its nuclear policy too? 

Then there is the reputational damage that is impossible to measure. 

Leave aside the ephemeral stuff about abandoning any concept of leadership in the greatest crisis the world has ever known, and abandoning it just as Canada burned, Libya drowned and the Mediterranean boiled. Just think about the UK’s attractiveness as somewhere to do business. 

Would you invest in a new office or factory in the UK when it is not taking global warming seriously, when as a result your products will not be as green, when you don’t trust the government’s word, when it can reverse its policies and immediately denounce the old ones as arbitrary and punitive? 

Why would you do that, when your customers are increasingly aware of the green credentials of your products, when the companies you supply insist you move towards carbon-neutral production, when your reputation is on the line?

Remember this government has been heavily criticised for years for a lack of a proper green industrial policy. Earlier this year, the top economist Andy Haldane warned the UK was “not really in the race at any kind of scale” as other countries were stealing a march by developing the green, hi-tech industries of the future.

The government has paid lip service to the idea of moving towards a greener future and talked about the huge potential for the UK as a world leader in green technology. Yet it has done nothing like as much as the USA or the EU to make that a reality. And now we know why. 

The UK government has not just failed to provide a proper green economic strategy for the UK, it is now developing an anti-green, non-industrial strategy. It is going to try to steal a march on its rivals and competitors by marching backwards.

We all know that this is down to one thing, the cynical attempt to win the general election by portraying the Tories as the friends of car owners and the enemy of Just Stop Oil. 

But economically speaking this is far more important than just one party’s political shenanigans or even one general election. 

The Tories are selling out the country, betraying its businesses and its future prosperity, tarnishing its reputation, destroying any attempt to develop a green economy, ruining the investment and planning of thousands of firms, and throwing away any pretence of economic leadership or green credentials.

This is worse than a blunder. This is a crime.

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