Rishi Sunak has said he does not want policies tackling the climate crisis to “hassle” families as he seems set to water down efforts to win over voters.
The prime minister said he wants to act in a “proportionate and pragmatic” way that does not “unnecessarily” affect lives as he comes under pressure from the right of the Tory party.
He insisted on Monday that reaching net zero is “of course” important to him, following accusations he is “uninterested” in the environment.
But he did not specifically recommit to the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 amid tensions over policies to tackle the emergency.
The Conservatives narrowly held on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip in last week’s by-election after Labour’s failure to win was attributed to the expansion of the Ulez emissions scheme.
Asked whether he is continuing with the target for banning new fossil fuel car sales, Mr Sunak insisted “we’re going to keep making progress towards our net zero ambitions”.
But he was not clear whether the 2030 deadline will stay in place after a report in The Times that an “Aston Martin exemption” could be added for smaller car manufacturers.
Other suggestions included a ban on low-traffic neighbourhoods and giving landlords longer to meet energy efficiency targets as the Tories battle to win back voters.
Mr Sunak was pressed during a visit to Worcestershire whether he will stand up to the MPs on the right of his party who are urging him to rethink the pace of net zero policies.
“Actually I’m standing up for the British people because I’m also cognisant that we’re living through a time at the moment where inflation is high,” he said.
“That’s having an impact on household and families’ bills. I don’t want to add to that, I want to make it easier.
“So yes we’re going to make progress towards net zero but we’re going to do that in a proportionate and pragmatic way that doesn’t unnecessarily give people more hassle and more costs in their lives – that’s not what I’m interested in and prepared to do.”
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Danny Kruger, the co-leader of the New Conservatives group of Tory MPs elected since the Brexit referendum, have been urging the prime minister to reconsider the deadlines for green initiatives.
Sir Jacob said that scrapping “unpopular, expensive” policies would be a “real opportunity” and proposed getting rid of the 2030 ban announced during Boris Johnson’s premiership.
But Mr Sunak has also faced allegations from some quarters of the Conservatives for environmental apathy, with Tory peer Lord Zac Goldsmith resigning and accusing Mr Sunak of being “uninterested” in the environment.
Batting for the government with a round of morning broadcast interviews, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell was initially unclear about the 2030 ban until he insisted it “will remain in place” after coming under pressure.
But asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today if it will remain that way, he said “well, all I can tell you is it is in place”, but when challenged again said: “Well, I’m afraid I can’t prophesise for the future.”
He denied the suggestion that it may not stay for the rest of the term of this government, saying: “That is not what I am saying. I am saying that it is in place and it remains in place.”
Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan was sticking by his policy of expanding the £12.50 daily charge for vehicles that fall short of emissions standards to the capital’s suburbs.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had urged him to “reflect” on the policy designed to cut air pollution after Labour failed to seize Uxbridge and South Ruislip by 495 votes.