Boris Johnson is prepared to ditch green policies inspired by his environmental activist wife Carrie in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis.
Less than a year ago the PM hosted the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow and urged the world to do a deal to reduce the impact of climate change. [bold, links added]
He has also championed the UK becoming Net Zero in terms of emissions by 2050, under a swing to green advocacy said to have been driven by his third wife, a noted campaigner.
But today he is said to be preparing to water down the plans. Faced with soaring fuel and power bills for millions, and the rising cost of food, he is said to be jettisoning some of the moves he backed months ago.
His own weakened position after last week’s confidence vote in his leadership, which saw 148 of his own MPs demand that he quit, gives him less power to see off a powerful group of backbench MPs who are against the plans.
Among the plans said to be watered down is a fund to pay farmers for ‘rewilding’ areas of land, which has been reduced from £800million to £50million.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove announced in 2019 that Leon founder Henry Dimbleby was to lead a review into England’s food system to ensure it is ‘safe, healthy and affordable’ for all.
The review also aimed to investigate how the food system could help restore and enhance the natural environment, build a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector and contribute to urban and rural economies.
In his final report, published in 2021, Mr. Dimbleby called on ministers to make sure the budget for payments for farmers to deliver environmental benefits – such as restoring nature, preventing floods, and improving soils – was guaranteed until at least 2029.
But this appeared to have been ignored in the draft White Paper, with the Government instead repeating a pledge to maintain funding levels during the current parliament.
It came as the PM faced the fury of farmers over his post-Brexit food policies.
President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, told The Observer she met with the Prime Minister on Friday and told him farmers were furious with post-Brexit policies they said left them at a disadvantage against foreign producers. …snip…
Mr. Johnson has faced increasing organized Tory opposition to his multi-billion-pound green energy plans amid a deepening cost of living crisis.
The Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) of backbenchers warned in February his plans to slash the UK’s carbon output by 2050 are misplaced at a time when so many face a struggle with their energy bills.
Gas prices have fueled huge increases in costs for families, exacerbated by inflation and a hike in National Insurance contributions introduced in April.
The Prime Minister’s Net Zero plans are seen by many backbenchers as a sop to his wife Carrie, a noted environmental campaigner. She is a close friend of Zac Goldsmith, a foreign office minister who is also a campaigner on green issues.
But a new team at No. 10 brought in after the Partygate fiasco is less green and is steering the PM away from their influence, the Sunday Times reported.
A source close to the PM’s chief of staff, Steve Barclay, told the paper: ‘As we’re tackling the cost-of-living crisis, ministers are looking at where efficiencies can be made to deliver value for money.’
However, other sources branded the former minister and adviser David Canzini as ‘useful idiots’ for the farming lobby.
A leaked draft of a food strategy due to be released on Monday has been branded ‘half-baked’ and ‘flatter than a pancake’ by campaigners, with particular concern over the apparent rejection of a proposal for a tax on sugar and salt.
Ministers were accused of concocting a blueprint ‘bordering on the preposterous’, with the document suggesting they will shun key recommendations from a major review of the food system by Mr. Dimbleby.
Ministers appear to be moving forward with some of Mr. Dimbleby’s proposals, including by consulting on mandatory food waste reporting for businesses of a certain size.
The Government has also agreed to trial a Community Eatwell program, as announced in the Levelling Up White Paper, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.
The document said ministers would ‘support progress on a wide range of issues, including alternative proteins‘ after the review urged the Government to ‘nudge’ consumers into changing their meat-eating habits.
But it suggested sustainable sources of protein do not have to ‘displace traditional sectors’.
In his review, Mr. Dimbleby had set a goal of reducing meat consumption by 30% over 10 years.
Louisa Casson, head of food and forests at Greenpeace UK, accused ministers of seemingly ‘goading’ UK farmers into producing more meat.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesperson added: ‘We will be setting out the contents of our ambitious new food strategy in due course.’
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