Sunak has put the ship into reverse, but probably too late
However, Boris Johnson will go down as the Conservative prime minister who caused the greatest damage to the party – not only because of his cavalier attitude to the truth, but because he saddled the UK with ill-conceived green policies.
This week Rishi Sunak finally put the ship into reverse, but probably too late to head off electoral defeat in 2024. His new offering also still falls far short of policies that take advantage of the freedom to be radical that the UK achieved from Brexit.
Johnson’s enthusiasm for Brexit was less about the policy than how he could use it to battle his way to the top of the Conservative Party.
Once there it was inevitable his casual relationship with the truth would be his downfall. It was Johnson that tied the UK to net zero green policies even more draconian than those of the EU he was so keen to escape.
His ideas and policies were never rooted in science or economics and that is why Sunak had to act. With an election defeat looming, according to all polls, he had no option other than to take a high staked gamble that the wider public, as opposed to green cheerleaders that dominate the media, will see this as a good decision.
Sunak’s decision will be one of the final nails in Johnson’s political coffin. He wants to put clear blue water between his party and Labour and between London and Brussels. That is a gamble he needs to take to minimise the scale of a general election defeat in 2024. His aim is to keep that at a level from which the party can rebuild.
There is and will be criticism, but it is right to step back and think again about how to deliver green outcomes with less pain for those paying for them via taxes and energy bills.
This is an opportunity to show some real joined up, economics and science led thinking and to embrace the freedom Brexit has given the UK to do things differently.
If there is to be a new plan for back to basics green policies, now is the time for radical thinking on food and farming. This is an industry that could deliver on so many fronts.
It can deliver green outcomes, not from being paid to do so, but as a by-product of producing quality food close to where it will be eaten.
This is green by any standards and we can do this while maintaining the freedom to export, because our standards remain beyond reproach. It would also create a high bar for imported food.
We might even be looked at with envy by farmers in the EU facing years of curbs on production to deliver the European green agenda. This would demand a sea change in how agriculture is viewed by politicians at Westminster. All too often they are blinkered from paying too much heed to the radical environmentalists, so loved by the general media. They might do well to remember that the pragmatic pro-farming environmental approach of Jeremy Clarkson created the first streaming series to enter the mainstream Top 40 of television programmes.
With Brexit, farmers lost many things, most notably security around financial support. Thanks to a government that has simply followed EU policies, that was not offset by any gains. However the biggest loss for farming was the influence it secured from being part of the European farming lobby. That power equation in Europe came via COPA, the umbrella body for EU farm unions. It influenced decision making in Brussels and those decisions had to be implemented in the UK.
The European farming lobby scored a major success when the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, singled out farmers for praise in her annual state of the union speech to the European parliament.
The Commission president underlined the importance of food security and thanked farmers for providing European citizens with quality food day after day. Von der Leyen said healthy food was the driver of EU agricultural policy.
The speech was a big win for the farming lobby, which had urged her to make reference to agriculture. That happening in the UK is sadly just a dream, but played properly such radical thinking could be a vote winner for an increasingly desperate government.