The Conservative Party “won’t be forgiven” for pushing ahead with Liz Truss’s efforts to resuscitate the fracking industry, campaigners say.
On Wednesday evening the government forced MPs to break a manifesto pledge and vote against a proposed ban on shale gas extraction amid chaotic scenes.
Opposition MPs and environmental campaigners accused Tories voting with the government of opting to “prop up a zombie prime minister”, to save their own careers rather than take a stand on the environmental issues affecting their constituents.
Greenpeace said the fracas in the commons was a “disgrace”, and represented a “pathetic” stance on energy and climate policy.
Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK policy director, said: “This government has pushed its MPs to avoid scrutiny of them breaking the Conservatives’ own manifesto pledge, a promise that helped them win votes in parts of the UK where fracking has been touted. That is a disgrace.
“The most pathetic part is that it won’t even make a jot of difference to people’s bills – because new gas from fracking or from the North Sea just gets sold on international markets to the highest bidder,” he added.
“Meanwhile the government continues to largely ignore the most obvious and practical solution: fixing our draughty homes that are wasting energy and costing us money and carbon emissions. No one voted for this.”
Jamie Peters, fracking campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The fact that Conservative MPs publicly stated that they would vote with Labour is truly extraordinary.
“There is clearly significant and mounting opposition to fracking across the political spectrum.”
He said a last-minute intervention ahead of the vote on Wednesday by business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, to launch a consultation into what constitutes local consent for fracking, “shows the government is now finally recognising the strength of feeling against fracking and the evident dissatisfaction within its own ranks”.
“It shows just how deeply unpopular it is across Westminster, not to mention with the public – not helped by the fact that the government’s plans are devoid of scientific backing,” Mr Peters added.
Labour MP Geraint Davies sits on the Efra committee, and an author of a key Council of Europe report on fracking which was used as a basis for Emmanuel Macron banning the practice in France.
He told The Independent: “The fracking vote showed that Tory MPs would disregard their manifesto promises, their constituents’ wishes and the environment for their own careers by instead voting to prop up a zombie prime minister.
“They know fracking is worse than coal for global warming, creates house-cracking earth tremors, lakes of contaminated water above and below ground, unhealthy air quality and endless lorry movements but still vote to allow fracking proposals to go forward having made protests unlawful and discredited democratic consent by their own squalid actions.”
The Liberal Democrats’ energy and climate change spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, told The Independent: “Conservative MPs will not be forgiven for this. England’s countryside is now at risk of pointless drilling which won’t even bring down energy bills.
“The public wants renewable energy, not fracking. Renewables are the cheapest and most popular form of energy and are vital in reaching net-zero targets. Conservative MPs are backing a government of climate-deniers who are hellbent on ripping up green land for pointless fracking.”
The vote on Wednesday descended into farce after Tory MPs – some of whom campaigned for their seats on a basis of opposing fracking – were ordered to vote with the government after senior party members said the issue had become a confidence vote.
This led to several Conservative MPs saying they would vote against the government, even if that meant “losing the whip” – effectively expelling them from the parliamentary Conservative Party.
When the vote took place in the evening – a process requiring MPs to file through different doors – many MPs reported that some Conservatives were “manhandled” and “bullied” into voting with the government.
Ultimately, the proposed ban on fracking was defeated, with 326 votes by MPs opposing the Labour motion and 230 supporting it.
However, 40 Conservative MPs voted against the government, in a further blow to Ms Truss’s crumbling authority.
On Wednesday, Mr Rees-Mogg downplayed the vote chaos, saying: “I didn’t see any bullying. There were discussions going on, and there was a discussion about the vote that was taking place, and this was what normally goes on outside the division lobby,” he said.
“I heard one person swear and use an expletive… a Conservative when going into the division lobby, swear and say, sort of ‘get on with it’, but he wasn’t saying it to an individual.”
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