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Rishi Sunak speaks to people at Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex
Rishi Sunak on a visit to Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex, after his BBC Radio 4 interview. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images
Rishi Sunak on a visit to Writtle University College near Chelmsford, Essex, after his BBC Radio 4 interview. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Sunak’s bold climate plan? Wait until 2047 – then push the panic button

This article is more than 1 month old
John Crace

Close to implosion on Radio 4, the PM insists to Nick Robinson that he is not watering anything down. Even though he is

A night’s sleep had done nothing for Rishi Sunak’s mood. The prime minister dislikes being challenged at the best of times. He has the entitled demeanour of someone convinced of his own brilliance. A politician for whom the idea of getting something wrong is a category error. Who can’t understand why anyone might question him. He’s right because he’s always right. A man not prone to self-reflection or self-doubt. And now he had to face the BBC’s Nick Robinson in a 20-minute interview on the Today programme to defend his climate crisis speech. The last thing he wanted to do.

Robinson began by observing they were sitting in the Thatcher Room at Downing Street and that Margaret Thatcher had taken climate change very seriously. Sunak meanwhile had chosen not to go to the United Nations general assembly and was busy watering down the UK’s efforts to combat global heating.

Almost immediately you could hear the irritation in Sunak’s voice as he began to talk over Robinson. He wasn’t watering anything down. He had made that clear. Why didn’t everyone just listen to what he had said? More to the point, why didn’t everyone just take him at his word instead of picking holes? And why weren’t more people grateful for what he had been doing for them. Hell, he worked long hours on all this stuff – there were times when he barely saw his family – and the least the country could do was love him for it. In a fairer world, he would have been given a medal.

These were the nuts and bolts. Thatcher had been right to worry about climate change. He too worried about climate change. Just not so much. Because the difference between her and him was that he had bothered to come up with a proper plan. Or rather the lunatics and weirdos on the right of the Conservative party had come up with some suggestions that he had adopted.

And here was the thing. He, the Great RishGPT, had come up with the bold and, if he might say so himself, extremely brave idea that the country could have its cake and eat it. Yes, he knew this might not be popular – the dishonesty meter flickered off the scale at this point – but he had worked out that the UK could meet its net zero targets by not meeting its net zero targets.

Brilliant. What everyone had to realise was there was no real point in getting too worked up about 2050 targets in the short and medium term. Much the best thing was to wait until about 2047 and panic. And if the scientists hadn’t come up with some planet-saving technology by then, we’d all be dead anyway. So no harm done. Best to live and let live now and not worry too much.

Besides which, the UK was well ahead of the rest of the world in decarbonising, so we would be doing other countries a favour if we slowed down a bit. We didn’t want them to get disillusioned or to think they would never be able to catch up. We owed it not just to the planet but to the French and Germans as well if we backed off a bit. The first time Rish! has found any positives in aligning with the EU post-Brexit. Mostly, though, people just had to believe that you could water down your commitments without watering down your commitments.

Robinson clearly didn’t accept a word of this and kept pressing Sunak on the sheer cynicism of the doublethink involved. It would even have been too much for the 1984 author, George Orwell, or TV political satire The Thick of It. This was all nonsense, the presenter said. The UN was horrified by what the UK government was doing and the Climate Change Committee was adamant we wouldn’t be able to meet our net zero targets with the change of direction.

By now the increasingly thin-skinned Rish! was on the brink of implosion. If he said we could do what we liked with cars and boilers before 2035 then we could do what we liked. OK? People had got the climate debate all wrong by setting arbitrary targets. What the planet had to realise was that it needed not to heat up so fast if it wanted to survive. The planet had just got too big for its boots. Too self-important. Time for it to listen to British cars and boilers. Bonkers.

“I make no apologies for trying a new type of politics,” Sunak said. One that was remarkably similar to the old one where you tell key voters precisely the things you want to hear. And get love-bombed for your leadership. We were on the brink of a new era. One where honesty could triumph. Where the government would make no pretence that it was lying to you.

By now, Robbo could barely contain himself. Honesty? It was all a pre-election con. That’s why the Tories had sent out attack cards minutes after the speech. Only they had promised to abandon green policies such as the Seven Deadly Bins, a meat tax and car sharing that had never existed. Nor were ever going to exist.

That’s not true, said Rish!, the nasal drawl ramped up an octave. They might have existed so therefore they in a sense existed. And while he was about it he was going to ban people from killing their grandparents if they became ill. Had Labour promised that? No! Therefore Labour was on the side of killing old people. What did Keir Starmer have to say about that?

See me! Feel me! Touch me! Sunak couldn’t help himself. The lack of respect, the lack of love was unbearable. He was the light. He was the way. Why was no one talking about what he had done for small boats and inflation? But he was undaunted. He would be honest with the country. Rather implying that he hadn’t been up till now. And forgetting he’s just the last in a line of five Tory prime ministers who have hollowed out the country. The only honesty we would be seeing would be skin deep. The desperation to say and do anything to hold on to power.

The interview ended with Sunak slipping away to do further media slots. “You’ll be going by car,” Robinson said. Rish! shrugged. Helicopter more likely. Start as you mean to carry on. Burn, baby, burn.

More on this story

More on this story

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