Quitting net zero tsar Skidmore is wrong on North Sea oil and gas says Hunt
The Chancellor has hit back at the former net zero tsar after he quit the Conservatives over the Government’s decision to increase domestic oil and gas drilling.
Jeremy Hunt said he “profoundly” disagrees with Chris Skidmore’s reasons for resigning as an MP, with the former energy minister’s exit due to trigger another challenging by-election for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Mr Skidmore (pictured), who carried out a Net Zero Review for the Government in 2022, announced on Friday he would stand down, citing Mr Sunak’s environmental stance as “wrong” and predicting it would “cause future harm”.
It comes ahead of a vote in the Commons on Monday on the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.
If passed by Parliament, the legislation will mandate that licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea are awarded annually.
The MP for Kingswood in South Gloucestershire said he could not vote for legislation that “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas” and would show the UK is “rowing ever further back from its climate commitments”.
But the Chancellor said Mr Skidmore’s stance on new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea was “wrong”.
Praising Mr Skidmore’s work on climate change issues on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, Mr Hunt went on to say: “But I do profoundly disagree with the reasons that he gave for resigning.
“The independent panel for climate change (the Climate Change Committee) that we have in this country are very clear that even when we reach net zero in 2050, we will still get a significant proportion of our energy from fossil fuels.
“And domestic oil and gas is four times cleaner than imported oil and gas.”
Mr Hunt said international events showed the need for domestic energy security.
“The point is, I think he is wrong on North Sea oil and gas,” the senior Tory continued.
“When you have the problems in the Red Sea (with international cargo ships being attacked by Iran-backed Houthi rebels), it is very important for energy security that we have domestic sources of that kind of energy as we go into transition.”
Mr Skidmore’s decision leaves the Prime Minister facing two tricky by-elections in early 2024, with another already in motion after voters last month ousted scandal-hit Peter Bone in Wellingborough to trigger a contest in the Northamptonshire constituency.
Kingswood has been held by Mr Skidmore since 2010, beating second-placed Labour by 11,220 votes at the last general election in 2019.
That margin is far smaller than in the last two by-election defeats Labour handed to the Tories, when a majority of more than 24,000 was overturned in Mid Bedfordshire and more than 19,000 in Tamworth.
With his Kingswood constituency being abolished under the boundary review, Mr Skidmore had already announced his intention to stand down at the next election, but resigning now means adding to the pressure on the Prime Minister.
Mr Skidmore said it is his intention to stand down next week when the Commons is back from its Christmas break.
Labour has pledged to vote against Monday’s oil and gas legislation, with shadow climate and net zero secretary Ed Miliband calling it “irresponsible” and “reckless”.
The opposition party has challenged the Prime Minister to call a general election rather than undergo more by-elections.
Mr Sunak has signalled that he is minded to send the country to the polls in the second part of this year, before the January 2025 deadline for electing a new Westminster government.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: “Enough of endless and costly by-elections.
“Give the people a general election. What are you afraid of Rishi Sunak?”
Labour kicked off its by-election campaign in Kingswood on Saturday, with MPs and activists heading to the constituency to speak to voters even before a date has been set for the contest.
A number of the party’s South West MPs, including Bristol North West MP and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP and shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard and Bristol East MP and shadow climate change minister Kerry McCarthy, attended the launch.
Published: by Radio NewsHub