Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have joined a Tory backbench rebellion against a ban on new onshore windfarms, in the latest blow to Rishi Sunak’s authority.
The former prime ministers have have signed an amendment to the government’s Levelling Up bill, tabled by Tory MP Simon Clarke, which would overturn the de facto ban introduced by David Cameron in 2014. They join roughly 20 Conservative MPs who have already voiced their backing for the motion, according to The Guardian.
While Truss was in favour the resumption of onshore wind, and seeked to relax rules during her short tenure at Number 10, Johnson’s support of the amendment is more surprising given that he did not seek to reverse the longstanding policy when he was in office. The pair’s backing marks both of their first major parliamentary interventions since departing Downing Street.
This is not the first time Sunak has faced a challenge over the Levelling Up bill, nor the first time the challenge has come from within his own party. Just a few days ago, the Prime Minister was forced to pull a vote scheduled for Monday (25 November) on legislation that would set a target of building 300,000 homes per year after MPs threatened to rebel.
Led by former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, more than 50 Tory MPs backed an amendment which would make scrap the mandatory local housing targets and make them advisory only. This latest rebellion over onshore wind appears to only further undermine Sunak’s authority as leader of the Conservative Party.
Clarke, who served as a minister under both Johnson and Truss, said he is “delighted” to have their support. The former Levelling Up Secretary wrote on Twitter: “Delighted to have the backing of @BorisJohnson and @trussliz, together with MPs from right across the Conservative Party, for my amendment to allow onshore wind where (and only where) there is community consent. A pro growth, pro green policy at a time when we need both.”
The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP’s amendment would oblige the government to change planning rules within six months to allow new projects. While the latest public list of signatories to his amendment shows just two other Tory MPs, Virginia Crosbie and Katherine Fletcher, plus Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, Clarke told The Guardian that about 20 had committed support. These included other former ministers such as Stephen Crabb and Robin Walker.
Calls for the ending the ban on new onshore wind farms have grown amidst efforts to secure the UK’s energy independence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine squeezed global supplies. But Prime Minister Sunak has said he wants to prioritise building turbines offshore instead.
He commented: “It is right that we bring people with us as we transition to net zero. The worst thing we can do is alienate communities if we want to actually deliver on our climate commitments.”
Earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party would lift the ban if it wins power at the next general election as part of its plan to make the UK a clean energy superpower. His proposed planning changes include removing a provision that allows a single person’s objection to stop an application.
The Holborn and St Pancras MP said not backing onshore wind was a “national act of self-harm” and would be “choking off our econmic potential.”