Sunak takes aim at Starmer over £28bn green pledge U-turn

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Rishi Sunak has attacked Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to water down his flagship green investment programme, saying the move shows the Labour leader lacks a consistent plan.

The Conservative prime minister said Starmer had a “proven track record of U-turns on major policies” that had been demonstrated again by Labour abandoning its £28bn-a-year green spending pledge.

“That just demonstrates the point I was making. He’s someone who has just consistently changed his mind on a whole range of major things,” Sunak said on Thursday.

The Labour leader on Thursday afternoon is set to drop the £28bn figure from Labour’s “green prosperity plan”, which would be funded by public borrowing, and blame the pivot on worsening public finances under the Tories.

Starmer will still vow to deliver some underlying policies within the broader plan, including a new state-owned energy company called GB Energy, a home insulation programme, and a sovereign wealth fund to help industry decarbonise.

The Labour leader was also criticised by environmental campaigners for abandoning the £28bn figure, a move set to come after weeks of confusion about the party’s flagship economic policy.

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said cutting the policy would be “short-sighted” given the UK was already lagging behind other countries in the shift to a new low-carbon economy.

“For years UK climate action has been undermined by dither, delay and lukewarm support from government. We urgently need real political leadership to confront the climate crisis,” he said.

The U-turn is particularly awkward for Starmer given he used the £28bn figure himself just days ago in an interview with Times Radio.

But other senior Labour figures, including shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, had stopped citing the number in recent weeks.

Reeves pledged in 2021, when interest rates were close to zero, that a Labour government would borrow £28bn a year for green capital spending. 

But after interest rates rose sharply to tackle a surge in inflation, Labour became nervous about the financial implications of the pledge.

The party had previously already scaled back the policy, partly by saying it would gradually increase green spending to £28bn a year by the end of the first term of a Labour government.

Reeves also announced the policy would have to comply with Labour’s fiscal rules, under which public debt as a proportion of gross domestic product must be falling after five years. 

The policy has been regularly attacked by the Conservatives, who said the plan amounted to reckless state borrowing.

For more than two months there has been an intense debate at the highest levels of the Labour party over whether to water down the target.

One shadow cabinet member said: “Keir was really attached to the policy. He thinks it’s important and didn’t want to let it go.” 

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