Alok Sharma will not be voting for the Rishi Sunak’s oil and gas bill, criticising it as a sign the government was “not serious” about meeting its international climate commitments.
The bill, due to be debated in parliament on Monday, would allow for an annual licensing regime for oil and gas exploration contracts. It has been hugely controversial among the green wing of the Conservative party – the former minister Chris Skidmore announced on Friday he would be stepping down as an MP as a result of the proposed legislation.
Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West who was president of the Cop26 Glasgow climate summit in 2021, rarely rebels against the government, but was heavily critical of the bill.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I will not be voting for this bill.” He added: “What this bill does do is reinforce that unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action.”
He said: “We saw this last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies and actually not being serious about our international commitments. Just a few weeks ago at Cop28 the UK government signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. This bill is actually about doubling down on new oil and gas licences. It is actually the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally, so I won’t be supporting it.”
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory peer and former environment minister, urged Conservative MPs to follow Sharma’s example and vote against the bill. He told the Guardian: “Conservatives are facing almost certain defeat at the election and so now is not the time for colleagues to be slavishly obedient to a leadership that simply will not be there in a matter of months.
“This vote is about something so much more important than the average vote, and members will not be able to sanitise their records in the years to come. Some will be ex-MPs, others will cling on, but all of them will want to be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they were on the right side of history. It really is as simple as that.”
The government has claimed that the bill will help energy security and contribute to bringing down energy bills, but Sharma said this was not the case.
He said: “The government has said this bill is about protecting energy security. But the reality is, the oil and gas extracted from the north sea is owned by private companies – the government doesn’t get to control who they sell to. And the price of oil and gas is set internationally so it won’t actually lower domestic energy bills either.”
Government claims over the bill have been criticised by scientists and the independent Climate Change Committee. This weekend, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, was criticised by the head of the CCC over his assurances that the government could still meet its climate targets while allowing companies to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea.
Last week, it was revealed that, contrary to claims that the oil would be used in the UK, the government appears to accept that the private companies extracting the oil would sell the vast majority internationally, saying: “It is not desirable to force private companies to ‘allocate’ oil and gas produced in the North Sea for domestic use.” The statement was in response to a parliamentary question by the Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle.