Alok Sharma: I refuse to support the oil and gas bill proposed by the UK government.

Former Cop26 chair expresses concern about UK retreating from climate action.

Alok Sharma, the former business and energy secretary of the UK, will not be supporting Rishi Sunak’s oil and gas bill, stating that it reflects a lack of seriousness from the government in meeting its international climate commitments.

The bill, scheduled for debate in parliament on Monday, proposes an annual licensing system for oil and gas exploration contracts. It has sparked controversy within the green faction of the Conservative party, with former minister Chris Skidmore announcing his resignation as an MP in response to the proposed legislation.

Sharma, a Conservative MP for Reading West and the president of the 2021 Cop26 Glasgow climate summit, rarely opposes the government but strongly criticized the bill.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today program, he stated, “I will not be voting for this bill.” He further commented, “What this bill does do is reinforce the unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action.”

Sharma emphasized that the UK government had committed to transition away from fossil fuels internationally but the bill contradicts this by further promoting new oil and gas licenses. He concluded, “It is actually the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally, so I won’t be supporting it.”

Downing Street dismissed Sharma’s criticisms, with a spokesperson stating, “The government believes that it’s common sense to make the most of what we can produce here rather than shipping in from foreign regimes with higher emissions.”

Although ministers do not anticipate a major rebellion on Monday night, Zac Goldsmith, the Tory peer and former environment minister, urged Conservative MPs to follow Sharma’s lead and vote against the bill.

Goldsmith declared, “This vote is about something so much more important than the average vote, and members will not be able to sanitise their records in the years to come. Some will be ex-MPs, others will cling on, but all of them will want to be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they were on the right side of history. It really is as simple as that.”

The government claims that the bill will enhance energy security and lower energy bills. However, Sharma disputes this, stating that the UK government does not control who the private companies sell the extracted oil and gas to and that the international market sets the prices.

The government’s claims regarding the bill have faced criticism from scientists and the independent Climate Change Committee. Additionally, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt came under fire from the CCC’s head for assuring that the government could meet its climate targets while allowing increased oil and gas extraction from the North Sea.

Last week, it was revealed that the majority of the oil extracted from the North Sea by private companies will be sold internationally, contradicting previous claims that it would be used domestically. In response to a parliamentary question, the government stated, “It is not desirable to force private companies to ‘allocate’ oil and gas produced in the North Sea for domestic use.”

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