UK Conservative lawmaker quits, criticizes government’s climate plans

LONDON (Reuters) – A former British energy minister on Friday said he would quit the ruling Conservatives and stand down as a lawmaker over the government climate record, rebuking plans to allow more North Sea oil and gas licencing.

Chris Skidmore’s resignation will trigger a by-election to replace him as a lawmaker which will be closely watched ahead of a national election that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he thinks will take place in the second half of 2024.

It also gives Sunak a headache to start the year as he attempts to claw back some the opposition Labour Party’s double digit lead over the Conservative Party in the polls.

Sunak has been accused by critics of watering down Britain’s commitments to reach net zero, though he has said that Britain remains on track to hit that target by 2050.

The government aims to pass a new bill guaranteeing annual licencing rounds for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Skidmore said that as the energy minister who signed Britain’s net zero pledge into law in 2019, he could not vote for a bill that promotes the production of new oil and gas.

“The bill that will be debated next week achieves nothing apart from to send a global signal that the UK is rowing back even further from its climate commitments,” he said in a letter posted on X.

He added he could “no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of a action that I know is wrong and will cause future harm.”

Skidmore’s statement echoed that of environment minister Zac Goldsmith who resigned in June with a stinging criticism of Sunak that he was “uninterested” in environmental issues.

Skidmore said he was resigning his Conservative Party whip and would be standing down from parliament “as soon as possible”, indicating he might formally resign on Monday, when parliament returns from a Christmas holiday recess.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Angus MacSwan)