Bishop of Norwich wades into row with Rishi Sunak - saying environmental retreat is 'shameful'

The Bishop of Norwich: "Leadership and action are needed, not delay and procrastination"
The Bishop of Norwich: "Leadership and action are needed, not delay and procrastination" Credit: Diocese of Norwich

Plans by the government to delay a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035 has been slammed as 'shameful' by a leading church figure.

The Bishop of Norwich said the move was "shortsighted" and more leadership was needed to tackle climate change.

In a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, the Right Rev Graham Usher said: "It will be another shameful day if the Government rows back on its Net Zero policies.

"Shortsighted, it will erode credibility at home & abroad. This isn’t the time to seek political advantage with games. Leadership and action are needed, not delay and procrastination."

Rishi Sunak announced the plans to delay a ban on the sale of new fossil fuel-powered cars until 2035 this afternoon (Wednesday 20 September).

In his speech he said he was to weaken key climate targets in a bid to prevent "losing the consent of the British people".

The prime minister said the UK's current action on climate change would impose "such significant costs on working people" who are already "struggling to make ends meet".

Instead, he insisted, his new approach would avoid a public backlash and be "pragmatic, proportionate and realistic".

The expansion of Ulez was seen as a major factor in the Tory win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip Credit: Yui Mok/PA

The moves follow the Tories win in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip which was fought over the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) policy.

Under ULEZ drivers of older, more polluting vehicles are charged when driving through Greater London.

The policy has proved incredibly unpopular with Hertfordshire County Council refusing to even put up signage warning drivers where they might be entering a ULEZ area.

What did Rishi Sunak announce in his speech?

Is the commitment to reach Net Zero still in place?


Mr Sunak said the commitment to reach net zero by 2050 remains in place, and also said that UK remains committed to meeting international climate targets including those in the Paris Agreement.

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What about taxes on air travel?

The Prime Minister suggested his Government would not implement any new taxeson air travel.

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What about domestic heating?

There was some news here.

The grant available under the boiler upgrade scheme for households installing air source heat pumps will be increased by 50% from £5,000 to £7,500.

The Prime Minister said no household will be forced to introduce energy efficiency improvements.

He suggested the ambition to phase out the installation of new gas boilers by 2035 will be weakened. He said the Government would not force anyone to rip out their existing boiler for a heat pump, and that a new exemption would also be applied for low income households" so that they will never have to switch.

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Rishi Sunak on his visit to Norfolk Credit: ITV News Anglia

Just last month Mr Sunak came to Norfolk to mark a controversial Government relaxation of environmental rules allowing more new housing developments to be built.

But the Bishop has not been alone in his criticism. Car giant Ford also unhappy about the move to delay the ban on fossil fuel-powered cars.

The firm, which has a base in Essex, said it had made business decisions based on a 2030 shift away from petrol and diesel.

Ford UK chairwoman Lisa Brankin said: “Our business needs three things from the UK Government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

Opposition parties have also condemned Mr Sunak's plan.

With the Lib Dems claiming Mr Sunak had "cowered to the delayers and deniers"

Speaking on Monday, Rishi Sunak said he is "not prepared" to introduce green policies that will "unnecessarily give people more hassle and more costs in their life".

He refused to say whether or not he was still committed to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030, but insisted reaching net zero is important to him.

He said: "We are committed to Net Zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally - but doing so in a better, more proportionate way.

“Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment. No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change.

"As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children.”

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