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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Alamy Stock Photo

Rishi Sunak faces another by-election as ex-energy minister quits over drilling legislation

Chris Skidmore said he could not vote for legislation that “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas”.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak faces another by-election challenge as former energy minister Chris Skidmore is poised to resign as an MP, after quitting the Tories over legislation to boost North Sea oil and gas drilling.

Skidmore, who led a government review of net zero, announced this evening that he would stand down as he said the Prime Minister’s environmental stance is “wrong and will cause future harm”.

The MP for Kingswood in South Gloucestershire said the “future will judge harshly” anyone who backs the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill due to be voted on in the House of Commons on Monday.

He said he could not vote for legislation that “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas” and would show the UK is “rowing ever further back from its climate commitments”.

“To fail to act, rather than merely speak out, is to tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained,” he said in his resignation statement.

Sunak came in for criticism last year when he announced a U-turn on several climate policies, including pushing a ban on new petrol and diesel cars out another five years, shifting it from 2030 to 2035.

He also dropped a requirement around energy efficiency upgrades for rental properties, postponed a ban on off-grid homes using boilers that rely on heating oil by nearly a decade, and watered down a plan to phase out gas boilers from 2035.

The UK prime minister was also accused of hypocrisy on the world stage after he pushed for a phase-out of fossil fuels at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, just weeks after the policy backing more oil and gas exploration in the North Sea was announced

Skidmore said he would resign the Conservative whip, making him an independent, and quit as an MP “as soon as possible”.

He confirmed to the PA news agency that he would stand down “next week when Parliament is back”, with the Commons still on its Christmas recess until Monday.

Skidmore has held Kingswood since 2010, beating second-placed Labour by 11,220 votes at the last general election.

That margin is far smaller than in the last two by-election upsets Labour handed to the Tories, when a 24,664 vote majority was overturned in Mid Bedfordshire and 19,634 in Tamworth.

Sunak already faces having to defend Wellingborough after voters ousted scandal-hit Peter Bone.

Announcing his resignation, Skidmore said: “As the former energy minister who signed the UK’s net zero commitment by 2050 into law, I cannot vote for a Bill that clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas.

“At a time when we should be committing to more climate action, we simply do not have any more time to waste promoting the future production of fossil fuels that is the ultimate cause of the environmental crisis that we are facing.”

The Bill would mandate that licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea are awarded annually, and was seen as a challenge to Labour, which said it would ban new exploration licences to focus on renewables.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said: “Rishi Sunak is too weak to lead a party too divided to be led and working people are left paying the price.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney described it as an “embarrassing mess” for the UK Prime Minister.

“By delaying the election he has left the country to live with more Conservative chaos,” she said.

“The public simply don’t trust the Conservatives on the environment. Chris Skidmore has confirmed that uncomfortable truth for Rishi Sunak.”

With his Kingswood constituency being abolished under the boundary review, Skidmore had already announced his intention to stand down at the next election, but resigning now means adding to the pressure on the Prime Minister.

Speaking yesterday, Sunak said he is working towards a UK general election in the second half of the year after coming under pressure to call a vote soon.

He said it is his “working assumption” that he would not be sending the British public to the polls in the spring, as opposition figures have been talking up.

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