Sir Keir Starmer has defended scrapping a flagship pledge to spend £28bn a year on the green transition, insisting he won’t “make a promise I can’t keep”.
The Labour leader has faced intense questioning after he ended months of speculation by dropping the plan, which formed part of his strategy towards reaching net zero by 2030.
Sir Keir has said the net zero commitment remains but that Labour would now only spend £23.7bn on environmental schemes over the course of its first term in office – equivalent to just under £5bn a year.
While some in Sir Keir’s party have welcomed the move as fiscally prudent and astute in the face of Tory attacks, environmental campaigners said the Labour leader had “caved like a house of cards in the wind”.
Speaking to reporters today about the U-turn, Sir Keir said he would “much rather be straight with the British public than make a promise I can’t keep”.
“Every family knows that they’ve had to adjust their plans,” he said. “We’ve now had to adjust our plans.”
“And I think the British public appreciate us being straight and saying because of the damage the Tories have done, we can’t now do everything that we wanted to do.”
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Asked whether there was anything he could guarantee to voters that would be in the party’s manifesto for the election, Sir Keir replied: “Since we announced the green prosperity plan, we’ve made a number of very important commitments to gigafactories, to tidal development, to Great British energy… national wealth fund… all of the commitments I’ve made on outcomes, they all remain, and they’re fully costed.”
He added: “What we’re not going to do is make further announcements of further investment. Everything we’ve announced so far… all of that remains.”
Sir Keir’s announcement yesterday came after months of cooling on the policy, which was first formed in 2021.
Labour had already watered down the original plan, saying last year that the spending target would likely be met in the second half of a first parliament, rather than immediately, if the party wins the next election.
It was then caveated with the condition that it must meet the party’s fiscal rules, which include getting debt falling as a percentage of GDP.
While existing commitments are being kept, the party’s Warm Homes Plan – which was going to cost £6bn a year but will now have a price tag of £6.6bn over five years – is set to be a casualty of the climbdown.
While the aim is still to upgrade all homes below an energy performance certificate rating of C by 2035, the new timetable will see just five million properties insulated in the first five years of a Labour government.
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Confusion over the £28bn policy continued to grow until it was finally scrapped on Thursday, as shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves refused to refer to the £28bn-a-year figure at a business summit last week, while Sir Keir had previously said he wanted to “fight” with the Tories to defend the spending pledge.
Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, accused Labour of having “turned its back on the people who most urgently need these essential upgrades”, while Greenpeace UK’s co-executive director, Areeba Hamid, accused Sir Keir of having “caved like a house of cards in the wind”.