Tory backbench group to ‘question consensus’ on net zero goals

Tory MPs are planning to set up a new backbench group aimed at questioning the Westminster “consensus” on the need to urgently curb greenhouse gas emissions, it has emerged.

Tory backbench group is to ‘question consensus’ on net zero goals. Photograph: Alexandros Maragos / Getty Images

The group is to be led by Craig Mackinlay, MP for Thanet in Kent, who was previously deputy leader of UKIP. 

Reports from ITV suggest that the group does not intend to deny climate science, but rather will seek to push back on what Mackinlay has described as an "overwhelming Westminster consensus" around the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 

The group will seek to highlight the anticipated costs associated with meeting the government’s targets, according to the broadcaster. 

ITV reports that Mackinlay is asking for more transparency over the data being used to drive the decisions.

In a recent opinion piece for Conservative Home, Mackinlay wrote that the Climate Change Committee is “a significant player in the political debate around net zero, often explicitly directing government policy, while being totally unelected and unaccountable”.

He also writes in his article that “mainstream media regurgitates its words sagely with little space offered to those who question its assumptions”.

While Mackinlay has described the path to net zero as “muddled, costly and impractical”, he would appear to support the government’s ambitions over the natural environment as being “achievable, and rooted in common sense”. He says in his Conservative Home piece that “there is much to be done in protecting habitats and our oceans and weaning the planet off of the scourge of plastic waste”. 

Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, is also set to be a key player in the new group - he also recently became a trustee of Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and is a major figure in the influential Conservative backbench European Reform Group (ERG).

On the subject of government plans to decarbonise heating systems in homes, Baker recently tweeted: “Government must come clean on the range, scale and costs of the transformation planned for all our lives and secure public consent, or we face a political fiasco to eclipse the Brexit drama.”  

News of the backbench group comes as it was revealed last week that Boris Johnson is considering pushing back the ban on sales of all new gas boilers to 2040 due to the backlash over costs. Last year, the Climate Change Committee recommended doing so by 2033

Reports have also emerged that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has thwarted plans to compensate households for a rise in the cost of gas.

The plans, known as ‘carbon cheques’ were hoped to alleviate growing concerns within Tory ranks about the political consequences of policies to reach net zero. 

While under initial plans, payments were to go to most households, now “only the poorest Brits are expected to get grants to cover the entire cost of swapping” from natural gas to heat pumps, “leaving middle-class families to pay some of the bill”, the Sun reported last week.

However, according to a Whitehall official quoted in the Sunday Times this weekend, the carbon cheques plan is considered a “non-starter” by the Treasury and the business department.