Would You like a feature Interview?
All Interviews are 100% FREE of Charge
Rishi Sunak’s U-turn on the Government’s net zero pledges has plunged his popularity to its lowest point since becoming Prime Minister, latest polling shows.
Mr Sunak’s net favourability rating has slumped to -45, according to a YouGov survey following his speech rowing back on green policies, marking an all-time low for the Prime Minister.
The survey of more than 2,000 adults between 21 and 22 September showed the majority of Britons have an unfavourable view of Mr Sunak, rising from 67 per cent in late August to 68 per cent currently.
Meanwhile, just 23 per cent say they have a positive view of Mr Sunak, down three percentage points since late August.
The Prime Minister’s reputation among Tory voters remains largely unchanged, with 48 per cent saying they have a favourable opinion of Mr Sunak – roughly the same as last month.
However, his popularity among people who voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last general election has taken a beating over the past month, with just 12 per cent saying they view the Prime Minister favourably – less than half the figure in late August.
It comes after Mr Sunak announced plans to water down a raft of net zero commitments earlier this week in a bid to make climate change a fresh political battleground.
The Prime Minister announced he would push back the 2030 target for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to avoid imposing “significant costs on working people” by forcing them to switch to electric vehicles.
Mr Sunak also said he would weaken the plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035, alongside a promise to “scrap” measures such as taxes on meats and flying, which were never actually Government policy.
The announcement, which Mr Sunak insisted was “not political”, sparked major backlash from climate campaigners and his own MPs, who believe it drastically undermines the UK’s position as a world leader on climate change.
The Government’s own Climate Change Commission warned the UK has a “legal obligation to meet its net zero 2050 target” and a “commitment to hit the interim emission reduction targets” already in law.
And the Conservative Environment Network, which represents around 150 Tory MPs, warned Mr Sunak his watering down of green policies risks reputational damage for the Tories.
The latest YouGov poll highlights the political gamble Mr Sunak has made as he attempts to draw clear dividing lines between the Tories and Labour ahead of the next general election.
The Prime Minister’s net zero shake-up will now go to a vote in Parliament, though it remains unclear whether there will be enough Tory rebels to overturn Mr Sunak’s plans.
One Tory MP told i they expected around 15 to 20 rebels, which would be enough to embarrass but not defeat the Government.
Another insider said the number could be as low as 10, in what would be a boost to Mr Sunak who has faced stinging criticism over his watering down of net zero policies.
“There are frustrations which people are expressing privately, but they are ones that people can swallow given there is a mood that Rishi is taking the party in the right direction,” the insider added.
It comes after leaked WhatsApp messages showed some backbenchers heaping praise on Mr Sunak for “leading from the front”, despite a backlash to his decision to roll back net zero measures.
Messages sent in a WhatsApp channel for all Conservative MPs, seen by i, showed many congratulating Mr Sunak following an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in which he was grilled over his watering down of net zero plans.
One backbench MP wrote in the group, of which Mr Sunak is a member, that he was “totally right to focus on the balance of the needs of people and the decarbonisation imperative.”
Another said he was “seizing the agenda” and that policy announcements like this were “just what we need from the PM”.