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The Tories are selling out British business

Voters have turned their backs on the government, and now industry is following suit

The motor industry was on course to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and has been thrown by the government’s U-turn. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty

Just when you think the Tory Party can get no lower, they get the JCB out and excavate to new depths. A lot has been written about the ethical and moral aspects of Rishi Sunak’s disgusting environmental volte-face, but just look at the economic and business consequences alone. 

The government has deliberately done serious economic damage to the country – again. The so-called party of business screwed business over Brexit and now it has stabbed business in the back over the green U-turn.

This summer it has thrown a billion quid at Britain’s car and steel industries to hit environmental targets that have just been abolished, without a word of warning. Industry is spitting nails in fury. Whatever belief they had left in Rishi Sunak’s administration has turned to dust.

I have rarely heard a business reaction like it. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mike Hawes – chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – said: “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 are you doing?” 

Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK, called for “ambition, commitment and consistency” and said her view was that “a relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three”, referring to Sunak’s proposals to put back certain targets from 2030 to 2035. 

Make UK, the trade body for the manufacturing industry, called Sunak’s decision “a huge setback for manufacturers who require stability and confidence in order to invest.” They added: “Many companies will have spent time and money planning on the basis of firm targets, and we now run the risk of falling behind our international counterparts as a home for green technologies if we persist in frequently altering policies that affect businesses directly. This will hit SME businesses in the automotive supply chain particularly hard.”

The message was clear: the party of business has just shafted business. 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. This is what they were saying instead:

Have you been developing home insulation products to make the UK’s homes warmer, and cheaper to heat? You’re a fool.

Have you been investing in new gas-free boilers? You are an idiot.

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

Pleased 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.

For many business people, this will be the final straw. No wonder industry will be notably absent from the Tory Party conference and heavily over-represented at Labour’s a week later.

The government just failed to get any bidders for new offshore wind turbines because it set the electricity price too low. 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. Will Sunak stand up to them? I very much doubt it.

Energy producers think the green delays are madness. Chris Norbury, chief executive of E.ON, called them a “mis-step on many levels… we risk condemning people to many more years of living in cold and draughty homes that are expensive to heat, in cities clogged with dirty air from fossil fuels, missing out on the economic regeneration this ambition brings.” 

So the plan is coming together: less investment, fewer jobs, cold and more expensive homes, pollution and lower economic growth. It is Tory business policy that keeps on giving, but only to the opposition.

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

Why would you invest in a new office or factory in the UK when it is not taking global warming seriously, when your products will not be as green as they would if produced elsewhere, when you can’t trust the government’s word since it can reverse its manifesto promises overnight and then wheel out Suella Braverman to denounce them as “arbitrary and punitive”? 

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

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.

For British industry, this is just another nail in the coffin. Since the Brexit referendum, business has spent years and millions lobbying to ameliorate the worst consequences of that decision. Only to be told by ministers to shut up, like it or lump it, the political equivalent of “speak to the hand because the face ain’t listening”. 

In a sense the government had to do that over Brexit – if it had listened to the country’s wealth-makers it would have reversed the referendum result immediately – but this is on a different level. 

It has not reversed decades of progress and policy because the electorate decided it made sense, but because it sees a short-term political advantage in doing so. Who will ever trust it again?

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 by Rishi Sunak. It is a crime. 

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