Net zero: Rishi Sunak confirms government pushes back ban on sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2035

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A ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be pushed back five years to 2035, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said.

Rishi Sunak insisted he was acting to avoid a public “backlash” by watering down efforts to tackle the climate crisis in an announcement that is facing fierce criticism from green-minded Tories, environmentalists and industry figures.

In a speech from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday (September 20) he would put back a ban on new fossil fuel cars by five years in a major U-turn among a raft of measures.

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Mr Sunak insisted the UK was already ahead of allies in reducing emissions and could not impose “unacceptable costs” on British families.

“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.

“That’s why we have to do things differently.”

Reports the government was planning to water down some of its green policies first emerged on Tuesday (19 September), and on Wednesday, the Prime Minister scheduled a Downing Street announcement after a hastily-arranged call with cabinet members.

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Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to soften some of the UK government's net zero targets (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to soften some of the UK government's net zero targets (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock)
Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to soften some of the UK government's net zero targets (NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Getty/Adobe Stock

In his speech, Mr Sunak also said that households would “never” be forced to “rip-out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump”.

He said, under the previous policy, a family living in a terraced house could be faced with an upfront cost of £10,000 to switch to a heat pump.

He continued: “Even the most committed advocates of net zero must recognise that if our solution is to force people to pay that kind of money, support will collapse and we will simply never get there.

“So I’m announcing today that we will give people far more time to make the necessary transition to heat pumps.

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“We will never force anyone to rip-out their existing boiler and replace it with a heat pump. You will only ever have to make the switch when you are replacing your boiler anyway, and even then not until 2035.”

He said a new exemption would also be applied for low income households “so that they will never have to switch at all”.

Green policies have been in the firing line since the Tories narrowly held on to the outer-London seat of Uxbridge in a recent by-election - with pundits citing Labour-aligned London Mayor Sadiq Khan's controversial ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) expansion as the reason for the party's loss.

Since details of the government's expected announcement were first reported by media on Tuesday, climate campaigners, vehicle manufacturers, and pundits from across the political spectrum - including senior Tories - have hit out at the rollback.

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Experts have warned that although the government has said it remains committed to its goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, this will make it more difficult - and risks turning net zero into a political wedge issue.

University of Oxford energy policy professor Gavin Killip said there are two big reasons why watering down net zero policies is such a bad idea.

"Firstly, as many business leaders have already said, we need a long-term and consistent policy framework for decarbonisation so that businesses can invest with confidence," he said.

"Secondly, the timeframe is much more urgent than politicians seem to think. Achieving net-zero by 2050 will not be achieved by waiting until the 2030s or 2040s to get started. We need to be further down the decarbonisation route than we currently are, so this is a time to reinforce policy commitment and investment, not take it away.”

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