Net zero targets could cause more unrest and division than Brexit, Tory MP warns

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The government has promised a range of support for things like insulation and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, and it has not ruled out tax rises or reduced public spending - but it simply cannot pay for everything.

Net zero targets could cause more unrest and division than Brexit, Tory MP warns

Image: The target of reaching net zero by 2050 was enshrined in law in 2019

Carbon emissions targets could be “bigger than Brexit” for the potential of causing unrest, and division in the country, an organising member of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs has warned.

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Serial rebel, Brexiteer and Tory backbencher Steve Baker helped establish the group of around 20 MPs who are concerned about the costs of reaching net zero.

And his warning comes amid an escalating cost of living crisis.

Net zero targets could cause more unrest and division than Brexit, Tory MP warns

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Image: Many fear the costs of reaching net zero which will include the move to electric cars

Mr Baker told Sky News: “I genuinely believe that when the full costs of net zero start hitting us, if people have never been given a choice at the ballot box, we could end up with something bigger than the poll tax, certainly bigger than Brexit, because the numbers of people hit by it and their inability to cope will be huge.

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“I am sick to death of people talking to me about food and fuel poverty, and then piling costs on the poor.

“This is a fundamental moral issue.

‘MPs know this is going to hit all voters and hit them hard’

“I’ve started three big projects of MPs on the issue of the day – one on Brexit, one on COVID, which of course affected everybody, and one on net zero.

“Of the three of them, the one that grew fastest by miles was net zero, simply because members of parliament know this is going to hit all voters and hit them hard and hit them fast and they aren’t going to like it.”

Mr Baker’s warning comes as the prime minister is fighting another significant division – battling to regain support from within his party as it responds to the ongoing “partygate” scandal.

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which includes former cabinet minister Esther McVey MP, recently signed an open letter demanding the government scrap green levies on energy bills and increase the amount of gas extracted from the North Sea.


But the larger, greener wing of the Conservative party sees things very differently.

Warnings of social unrest over net zero ‘populist’ and irresponsible

Its members point out that some of those belonging to the Net Zero Scrutiny Group are affiliated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation which has been described by scientists as a climate-sceptical organisation responsible for pushing misinformation, something it has denied.

Mr Baker is a trustee of the foundation.

Conservative Environment Network member Chris Skidmore MP said warnings of social unrest over net zero were irresponsible and populist.

In line with Boris Johnson, he and his colleagues see the prospect of a “green industrial revolution” and the massive investment it will require as fundamental to driving opportunity and stability in the decades to come.

They also view the net zero strategy as the answer to the energy price crisis that is helping to drive up the cost of living, arguing that the switch to renewables and nuclear will eventually provide a greater degree of energy sovereignty and reduce exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices.

Mr Skidmore told Sky News: “My greatest fear is that we end up with this race to the bottom, of… parties wanting to politicise energy prices, politicise net zero, and the only sort of winners in that are going to be the populists.

Net zero targets could cause more unrest and division than Brexit, Tory MP warns

Image: The government has promised a range of support which includes helping some replace gas boilers with heat pumps

“We do need to look at making sure that we do tackle the issues around cost of living, that we do make sure that we argue the case that actually net zero is not just about going green, it is about supporting jobs for the future, actually creating an entirely new economy.

“It will be painful and difficult, but we don’t, as a result, want to have a reaction that throws it entirely out of the window.”

The target of reaching net zero by 2050 was enshrined in law in 2019 by then prime minister Theresa May, and was included in that year’s Conservative Party manifesto.

The government has promised a range of support, particularly for those on lower incomes, for things like insulation and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps.

It has not ruled out tax rises or reduced public spending to help meet the huge cost of decarbonising homes, transport, manufacturing and more, but it simply cannot pay for everything.

What will be the price we have to pay?

The government’s Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that the total investment of public and private money needed to make net zero happen will be £1.4trn up to 2050, but this sum will be offset by more than £1trn in savings as a result.

The Climate Change Committee, which is the independent body that advises the government, says that spending needs to ramp up quickly to £50bn a year by 2030, five times what is being spent now.

We visited Lewes in Sussex – a relatively wealthy constituency that voted Conservative in the last two elections and where the Green Party has also been growing in popularity.

As in the rest of the country, there is broad support for tackling climate change and for the net zero target, but growing concern among residents about how much they might have to pay for it personally amid a cost of living crisis.

Farmer Will Kirkham said he was worried about the total cost of getting to net zero but also the potential for new taxes or more expensive products and bills in the short-term.

“Farmers don’t make much money as it is, let alone with an extra forking out of however much it’s going to be to change it all,” he said.

Pensioner Peter Gibson said climate change needs to be tackled but simply could not afford any extra upfront costs, even to deliver savings in the future.

“Some of these homes, flats and houses need doing and you just haven’t got the money to do it with because everything goes up, even food,” he said.

But head brewer at Harvey’s Miles Jenner said he believed there was little choice.

He said: “I think it’s the price that we all have to pay if we are going to make inroads and take the problem with the seriousness that it deserves.”

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 8.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

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