Britain’s PM Sunak faces Tory rebellion for keeping ban on onshore wind farms

LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing pushback from his ruling Conservatives as they try to force the government to drop a ban on new onshore wind farms.

More than 20 Tories, including Mr Sunak’s predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, are backing a pro-wind energy amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, which is expected to be debated before Parliament breaks for its vacation on Dec 20.

It is the second rebellion on the same legislation in less than a week, after Mr Sunak pulled a vote on his housebuilding plans as dozens of Tories threatened to defy him. 

Mr Sunak is facing a difficult time managing an unruly Conservative Party, which has become defined by rebellions on a wide range of policy issues that have hamstrung successive governments.

Former party chairman Jake Berry told the BBC on Sunday that soaring energy bills have made him change his mind to now back onshore wind farms. Consequently, he said, he would vote alongside the rebels on the amendment. 

“Boris Johnson famously used to call wind turbines the white, satanic mills of the north of England when they were building them all over my constituency,” said Mr Berry, who represents a district in Lancashire, northern England.

“He’s changed his mind on them. I, to a large extent, have changed my mind.”

Even the Cabinet minister in charge of the Levelling-Up Bill, Mr Michael Gove, expressed support in March for more onshore wind power.

While backing onshore wind is not yet the government’s official position, pressure is growing on Mr Sunak to alter course.

A spokesman for Mr Sunak declined to comment.

Tory MP Alok Sharma, who was the president of the COP26 climate summit, has also backed the legislative change. 

“Onshore wind is the cheapest, cleanest energy we have,” the opposition Labour Party’s climate change spokesman Ed Miliband said in an e-mail.

“The Tories’ ban has kept bills high and damaged our energy security. Rishi Sunak’s weakness means he’s having to be dragged to scrap it by his backbenches. He should swallow his pride and U-turn now.”

Seeking to tackle rising energy bills, Business Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday will announce a new £1 billion (S$1.7 billion) ECO+ plan to better insulate thousands of homes, saving consumers around £310 a year.

A new £18 million public information campaign will also offer ways for people to cut their energy use and stay warm as temperatures drop.

Mr Sunak’s woes are not confined to steering through his policy platform. Amid dire poll numbers, at least nine of his Conservative MPs have announced they will not contest their districts at the next election, due January 2025 at the latest. 

Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted the departing MPs are setting out their positions now because Tories have been given until Dec 5 to make a decision due to the planned changes in constituency boundaries.

“You are going to see those all bunched together so I don’t think there’s anything particularly to write home about that,” Mr Harper told Sky News on Sunday.

Speaking later to the BBC, the minister said of his disgruntled colleagues: “I accept things are not easy at the moment.” 

The Sunday Times reported that Mr Sunak will devote more political attention to issues important to Conservative voters, such as dealing with the number of migrants crossing the Channel and stopping protesters blocking motorways. 

Home Secretary Suella Braverman will meet police chiefs on Thursday to thrash out ways to allow police to make better use of their powers to arrest members of Just Stop Oil, her spokesman said.  BLOOMBERG


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