RISHI Sunak has unveiled a major rollback of the UK’s climate policies.

In a speech that was brought forward after its contents were leaked on Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be pushed back by five years to 2035.

He added that people would still be permitted to buy and sell second hand cars after that date.

Additionally, households will no longer be forced to make their homes more energy efficient or replace their gas boiler with a heat pump – although the boiler upgrade scheme which gives people money to replace their boiler will be increased by 50%.

He said that he was acting in order to avoid public “backlash” to net zero policies.

“The risk here to those of us who care about reaching net zero, as I do, is simple: if we continue down this path we risk losing the consent of the British people,” he said.

“And the resulting backlash would not just be against specific policies but against the wider mission itself meaning we might never achieve our goal.”

He accused previous governments, both Labour and Conservative, of attempting to reach net zero “simply by wishing it” and took aim at France, the US and China for failing to keep up with the UK in reducing emissions.

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He added: “We need sensible green leadership. It won’t be easy and it will require a wholly new kind of politics: a politics that is transparent.

“And the space for a better, more honest debate about how we secure the country’s long-term interests.

“We’re stuck between two extremes: those who want to abandon net zero altogether because the costs are too high, the burdens too great or, in some cases, they don’t accept the overwhelming evidence for climate change at all.

“And then there are others who argue with an ideological zeal: we must move even faster and go even further no matter the cost or disruption to people’s lives.

“Both extremes are wrong. Both fail to reckon with the reality of the situation.

“Yes, net zero is going to be hard and will require us to change. But in a democracy we must also be able to scrutinise and debate those changes, many of which are hidden in plain sight, in a realistic manner.

“This debate needs more clarity not more emotion.

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“The test should be: do we have the fairest credible path to reach net zero by 2050 that brings people with us?

“Since becoming Prime Minister I’ve examined those plans and they don’t seem to meet that test.”

He also ruled out his government imposing any policies which seek to add further taxes to flying, encourage less meat-heavy diets, and said that there will be no ban on new oil and gas in the North Sea. 

SNP MP Dave Doogan said the move was an attempt to appeal to voters amid bleak predictions for the Tories at the next election.

He said: “This weak policy being leaked from number 10 reveals a panicking Prime Minister at the mercy of febrile Tory back benchers who can collectively foresee their P45 coming at the next election. It is also no coincidence that Sunak capitulates on climate just days after the disgraced former PM Liz Truss demanded it in a speech at the Institute for Government.

“The tragedy is that his climate U-turn will appeal only to that small minority which was almost certain to vote Tory anyway. So while the climate suffers from UK backsliding the Tories will remain as doomed as they ever were at the next election.

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“As with everything else, the Tory Government claims to be world leading on climate but of course it was not. Rowing back on climate commitments proves that cowardice not confidence rests at the heart of the Tories and of course, as usual, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not been consulted.

“The automotive and heating industry has been gearing up for the shift to electric for years and now they must overhaul their planning and strategy to accommodate a flip flopping UK Government devoid of principle, focus or commitment. We can do so much better with independence

WWF Scotland said that Sunak's announcement gave the Scottish Government an opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum on climate policies in the UK. 

Gina Hanrahan, head of policy for the charity, said:

“Shifting the goal posts on targets and delaying climate action is incoherent with meeting net zero at a time when we need to ramp up efforts.

“The Scottish Government now has the chance to show real economic and political leadership in the UK and globally, if it takes the action needed to reach net zero fairly in the forthcoming climate change plan and in its heat and agriculture legislation.

“The evidence couldn’t be any clearer that acting on net zero will be a benefit to society, the economy and future generations.”