Red Wall Tory MPs reject Michelle Dewberry's call for net zero referendum
She said: “I would have a referendum on net zero because I can’t help but notice this policy has almost been foisted on people and everyday people are having to pay for it with pretty much zero consultation on the endgame.”
She later added: “Let people decide if they actually want this agenda. At the end of the day, climate change is fascinating but if you are going to die of starvation then it becomes a little bit pointless.”
But the idea was knocked back by several in attendance.
Speaking on a later panel, Redcar MP Jacob Young said the possibility of a net zero referendum was “not a sensible idea”.
He said: “Net zero isn’t a challenge, it is an opportunity for us. Carbon doesn’t really decide whether or not 52 per cent of people voted one way and 48 per cent the other. Net zero is what we have to do, because the climate crisis is real.”
Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison said of the net zero referendum idea: “I think it is important we have this conversation. We can’t deny climate change is real – it is. But I think at the minute, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, we need to get very real about the choices being faced here.”
She said the Tories “should look at easing short-term pressures on the cost of living with the ultimate goal of net zero through a good tax regime and good regulated businesses and get businesses investing and have that as our end goal. Cheap, clean energy is what we are aiming for.”
Northern Research Group chairman Jake Berry said of the proposal: “I think the Conservative Party’s experience of referendums wouldn’t make us rush.”
But Mr Berry, who is Rossendale and Darwen MP and a former Northern Powerhouse Minister, told reporters that while there is widespread support of the Government’s ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 among his Conservative colleagues, there are worries about how getting to the target will be achieved.
The climate change target has caused some controversy in Conservative circles, with the Net- Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservative MPs including Shipley MP Philip Davies questioning the wisdom of many of the policies it involves and calling for the return of fossil fuel-related policies such as fracking to help ease the cost of living crisis.
Mr Berry said: “There is wide support from colleagues for this agenda but there is also real concern about it affecting the people we represent.
“While we can all buy into the agenda, we don’t want to cause real hardships to the people we represent.
“What we need to have a conversation about in Government is the transition. We all agree where we are going, not everyone agrees about the route.
“If I think about the people in my constituency, you can’t put a heat pump on a back-to-back terraced house.
“That has been shown by members and colleagues – there is an active debate and an underlying concern of people in the Red Wall potentially being quite hard hit in a period where there is already a lot of concern about what we pay to heat our houses.
Earlier in the day in the opening speech to the conference, Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher said: “You will also hear of net zero today and hopefully how the North can capitalise on this sector – whether that is hydrogen, carbon capture, wind, solar, the list is endless. I believe the North is definitely the place for this to happen. I believe in doing the right thing for the right reason. If we get behind net-zero to save our planet, lots of other good will come out of this too. I believe in climate change, I appreciate not everyone does.
“But if we get this wrong, it won’t be much of a legacy we leave behind. As politicians, shouldn’t that really be our only goal? Our legacy must be we left this place better than we found it.”
He said he did not accept arguments that the UK’s carbon emissions only make up a tiny proportion of global ones.
“I hear we are only one per cent of the problem but two wrongs don’t make a right so we must try and hope that others will follow. People will say, ‘well, the lights may go out’ – well, let’s make sure they don’t.”
He added that the “green lobby” should get behind the Government’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050.
“If they put us much effort into making this a reality rather than saying it is not good enough, we might actually get there sooner. 2050 is this Government’s goal, it is my goal. If we have to burn fossil fuels to 2049 then so be it, we must keep the lights on. But 2050 shouldn’t move. 2050 is our goal and let’s hope the world will level up to our standards.”
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