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UK ban on petrol and diesel car sales postponed to 2035

Prime Minister Sunak rows back on Boris Johnson’s 2030 ban, saying ‘it’s not right to impose the cost on working people’

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The ban on the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars has been pushed back from 2030 to 2035, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attempts to reset the UK’s approach to meeting net zero targets.

All recent polls suggest delaying the ban will attract significant consumer support, but the move has dismayed the automotive industry which has been investing heavily to meet the 2030 target. Environmental campaigners too are up in arms, and the Labour party has already committed to reversing the decision if it wins the general election due next year, even though the new 2035 date is aligned with similar bans across Europe and other major global markets.

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Sunak appeared to criticise his predecessor Boris Johnson as he introduced the delay to the sales ban, saying there had been such a lack of debate and fundamental scrutiny of net zero policy, and that the country has “stumbled into a consensus about the future that no one seems to be happy with.” 

He went on to declare “there's nothing ambitious about simply asserting a goal for a short-term headline without being honest with the public about the tough choices and sacrifices involved, and without any meaningful democratic debate about how we get there. “The Climate Change Committee have rightly said, you don't reach net zero simply by wishing it yet. That's precisely what previous governments have done, both Labour and Conservative. No one in Westminster politics has yet had the courage to look people in the eye and explain what's really involved, and that's wrong.” 

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Sunak told a press conference that it’s can’t be right for Westminster to impose such decisions on working people without a properly informed debate, saying: “We seem to have defaulted to an approach which will impose unacceptable costs on hard pressed British families costs that no one was ever really told about, and which may not actually be necessary to deliver the emissions reduction that we need.”

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Even without a ban, Sunak said he’s confident the majority of new car sales will be electric by 2030: “The costs are reducing, the range is improving, the charging infrastructure is growing. People are already choosing electric vehicles to such an extent that we're registering a new one every 60 seconds,” he said. “But I also think that at least for now, it should be you, the consumer that makes that choice, not government forcing you to do it.” 

While the Prime Minister will be hoping for a positive reaction from consumers - and voters in the next election - the announcement has created a furore on the political stage.

The chair of the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee issued a statement saying “The Prime Minister has chosen to kick the can down the road, rather than pick it up and put it in the recycling bin.

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I am dismayed by today’s announcement and will be writing to the Prime Minister, on behalf of the committee, outlining our concerns and seeking clarification on his roadmap to net zero.  

“The overwhelming evidence we have received so far in our current Electric Vehicles (EVs) inquiry is that both industry and the public need policy certainty, consistency, and clear leadership on the journey to net zero.”

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Net zero is the target for the UK to be neutral in terms of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions it adds to the atmosphere by 2050 - effectively taking out as many emissions of gasses like CO2 as it put in. The ban on the sale of new ICE cars is a central pillar of this along with measures to phase out gas boilers in homes, but the gas boiler plans have been rolled back too. While there’s a pledge of new incentives to support domestic boiler upgrades, there’s no mention of any incentives to support EV sales.

While uptake of new electric cars has been strong among fleet users, EV purchases by private drivers are flat-lining. Doubts remain concerning their affordability and the charging infrastructure needed to support them as mass adoption gathers pace. The UK is the only major European market that is currently offering no government incentives to support EV sales, which nevertheless accounted for just over 20 percent of the car market in August 2023.

Ford UK Chair, Lisa Brankin, released a statement echoing the concerns of the car industry regarding the move. It says that that: "Ford has announced a global $50 billion commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025. The range is supported by £430 million invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.

"Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency.  A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.  We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high."

Do you think pushing back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars was right? Let us know in the comments...

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Head of digital content

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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