On Friday, former Energy Minister and Chair of the Government Review of Net Zero Chris Skidmore MP announced that he would resign both from the Conservative Party and as an MP.
His resignation as an MP could take effect as soon as today. Skidmore cites in his statement the Government’s decision to bring forward legislation that would facilitate the annual awarding of licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. Skidmore, who signed into law in 2019 the UK’s pledge to reach net zero by 2050, stated that the proposed legislation ‘clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas’ and ‘achieves nothing apart from sending a global signal that the UK is rowing ever further back from its climate commitments’.
The proposed legislation, the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, is one of the keystones of the Government’s legislative agenda as set out in November’s King’s Speech. Widely seen as intending to create a dividing line with the Labour Party. This was the latest step as part of a wider pushback against net zero initiatives that began in July’s Uxbridge by-election, where strong opposition to the ULEZ policy was seen. This was decisive in helping the Conservatives retain the seat and continued in September when the Prime Minister pushed back several net zero policy milestones.
In addition to Skidmore, former COP26 Chair Alok Sharma states he will oppose the Bill. This with a significant number of pro-net zero Conservative MPs who are also expected to either vote against or abstain on the Bill. So rather than creating difficulties for Labour, the proposed legislation has only opened up yet more divisions within the Conservatives, ahead of its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons tonight.
Try as the Prime Minister might to claim the political advantage, backfiring initiatives such as this will make his task ever harder as the general election approaches. As Labour face their own internal pressures on net zero as their flagship £28 billion net zero investment policy continues to be chopped and changed by the party leadership. Copper will continue to provide intelligence and insight to support clients in navigating this turbulent landscape and adapting to change.