Rees-Mogg seeks to avoid scrutiny on deregulation to ‘streamline’ new fracking projects, email shows

Business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has asked his department’s ministers to look into ways to escape potential judicial review of policies or public consultations, according to reports.

The Guardian, which shared content from a leaked email, described the message as Rees-Mogg seeking a way to evade legal, environmental and public scrutiny on new oil and gas projects.

The email, which according to the newspaper was sent by a senior official who explains they are relaying the secretary of state’s views, notes that parliamentary legislation is not subject to judicial review, and could potentially be used to speed along new projects.

An option that was raised for counteracting environmental scrutiny was to “streamline” requirements from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), with the email noting this “would speed matters up further”. The HSE is a government agency responsible for regulating workplace health, safety and welfare, and is also responsible for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals since the UK left the EU.

According to the email, Rees-Mogg also asked about ways for accelerating approval for oil and gas projects without breaking international obligations, and “asked specifically whether a debate in parliament, for example, counts as a public consultation”. Another route suggested was engagement with the energy industry “to maximise the approach to deregulation”, with the email saying Rees-Mogg believed new projects should not be identified without the agreement of companies behind them.

Fracking enthusiast Rees-Mogg has previously been accused of having an “alarming lack of understanding” of environmental regulation, and has recently come under fire for stating that only “the socialists and Caroline Lucas” are against fracking. Rees-Mogg is also an advocate for nuclear power, and said at the Conservative Party conference held in Birmingham that “Nuclear will be the ‘cornerstone of net zero’”.

A source in Rees-Mogg’s department did not dispute the email, but said it was important to explore ways to speed up important energy projects, according to the Guardian. The idea of deregulation has already been raised in certain areas, with chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng outlining plans to “liberalise planning rules” within 38 new “investment zones” in his recent fiscal statement announcement.

The growth plan that accompanied this statement set out plans to “speed up” the development of certain infrastructure projects, including projects such as the Cambo Oil Field, “through planning reform, regulatory reform, improved processes or other options”. In both cases it was clear that public approval would be needed behind these processes.

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A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesperson told ENDS: “The government has been completely clear on the need to accelerate measures to protect the UK’s energy security following Putin’s weaponisation of energy in Europe.

“We are exploring every avenue so we have secure energy supplies while ensuring that all the proper processes are being followed and parliamentary scrutiny is upheld.”