Grant Shapps plays down Tory rebellion claims as he hints at onshore wind ban U-turn
Grant Shapps denied the challenge constitutes a 'row' or that there is friction between the rebels and the Government
A Cabinet minister has hinted that Rishi Sunak could back down amid a growing Tory rebellion trying to force him to drop a ban on new onshore wind farms.
However, Downing Street appeared to push back on suggestions of a U-turn, stressing there is no “imminent change” to the Prime Minister’s opposition to relaxing planning rules around onshore wind.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps denied the challenge constitutes a “row” or that there is friction between the rebels and the Government.
Former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are among 30 Conservatives backing former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke’s pro-wind amendment to the Levelling Up Bill.
Playing down the significance of the revolt, Mr Shapps said he “didn’t recognise” the headlines.
Speaking to GB News’ Stephen Dixon and Ellie Costello he said: “I literally don’t recognise the way in which this is being reported.
“First of all, we’re in politics. The idea is you debate ideas and I don’t know why this has been turned into something which it certainly isn’t.
“Secondly, we already have a lot of onshore wind, we’ve taken the decision as a country primarily to invest in offshore wind.”
He continued: “everything doesn’t have to be a row as you’ve described it, there certainly is no row here, why not look at policy and figure out the best way forward?
“The Prime Minister has said, and he’s absolutely right about this, when you move forward with these things it’s got to be done with local consent and we’ll always look at the best way to do that. It’s as simple as that, it certainly doesn’t make it a row.”
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However, No 10 later suggested Mr Shapps was pointing to existing rules, although the requirements around community consent put place in 2015 are so tough to meet that they amount to an effective moratorium on new onshore wind projects.
Mr Sunak vowed to maintain the ban during his unsuccessful Tory leadership bid in the summer, when he expressed a preference for building more turbines offshore.
Asked if the Business Secretary was signalling an imminent U-turn, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “You’ve got our position – I’m sure he’s (Mr Shapps) pointing to the rules that are already in place, to allow for consultation.”
Elaborating on the Prime Minister’s position, the spokesman said: “The worst thing we can do is alienate communities.
“We want to deliver on our commitments and we have a very affordable form of energy in offshore wind.”
Asked if the Prime Minister is open to relaxing planning restrictions, the official said: “I’m not aware of any imminent change on that front.”
He said the Government considers amendments to Bills “as they’re put forward” and that Mr Sunak is seeking “views from both sides” of the issue.
The spokesman said he did not believe the Commons leader had come forward with a timetable for the Bill, but “they will do so, I’m sure, in the normal way”.
Mr Sunak could face a damaging defeat by Tory rebels, made more likely by Labour’s backing for the amendment.
Former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry and Alok Sharma, who was president of the Cop26 climate summit, were some of the latest senior MPs to add their names to the legislation.
The Prime Minister is also facing a split in opinion within his own Cabinet, with Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove understood to be backing an end to the moratorium.
Calls for a end to the ban have grown amid efforts to secure the UK’s energy independence as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine squeezes supplies.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Yet another screeching u-turn from a PM who has failed time after time to show the climate leadership our country needs and is having to be dragged in the right direction.
“Renewables like onshore wind are 9 times cheaper than gas – about time he realised it.”
The Prime Minister is also facing a challenge over building targets.
He was forced to pull a vote on the legislation that would set a target of building 300,000 homes per year when around 50 Tory MPs threatened to rebel.
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