Rishi Sunak has been accused of “making a mockery” of his climate pledges and wasting taxpayer’s money after travelling in a 14-seat RAF jet from London to Leeds.
Sunak used the jet to travel 200 miles to the Rutland Lodge medical practice on Monday (9 January), accompanied by the social care minister, Helen Whately. The trip was organised to publicise the government’s announcement of £200m to buy thousands of extra care home beds.
The trip by train would have taken two-and-a-half hours and flies in the face of the government’s pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.
The PM’s decision to travel by a RAF jet surfaced after Downing Street published a photo of him boarding the plane on its Flickr page. The government did not say how much the flight cost, but SNP and Green MPs accused the prime minister of damaging the environment.
Sunak has already been criticised for flying short distances around the UK. He personally paid more than £10,000 to fly by private helicopter from Battersea in London to a Tory dinner in Wales earlier this year.
‘Show of extravagance’
Downing Street defended the PM’s decision, saying his choice of transport is “done in the interest of what is the most effective use of his time”.
No 10 said in a statement: “The transport the prime minister takes will vary and will always be done in the interest of what is the most effective use of his time, enabling him to get around the entirety of the UK when there is a great deal of pressure on his time.”
Labour accused the prime minister of a “show of extravagance” by opting to fly to the city for what the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner dubbed a “photo op”.
Rayner called on Sunak to reveal how much money was “wasted” on what Labour calculated was a flight lasting just over half-an-hour.
She said: “Families will be rightly angered by this show of extravagance by Rishi Sunak.
“Patients and staff are crying out for action from this government in the midst of a crisis in our NHS while the prime minister jets from London to Leeds for a photo op. The prime minister must come clean about how much taxpayers’ money was wasted on this 36-minute plane journey for a three-hour visit at the height of a cost of living crisis.”
SNP MP Tommy Sheppard tweeted that Sunak’s use of a jet made “a mockery of his climate pledges”, while Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “It is utterly indefensible for Tory ministers to make such short journeys by jet when far cheaper and much less damaging options are readily available.”
Ministers have passed a law requiring the government to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As part of this ambition, in July 2021 ministers set out a Jet Zero strategy, containing their plans for creating a net zero aviation sector, including switching to less polluting fuels.
It did not include discouraging air travel but making travellers more aware about the emissions involved when flying instead.
The aviation sector accounts for an estimated 7% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Government statistics show that travelling from London to Glasgow by plane is more than five times more carbon intensive than travelling by train.