Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have joined a growing Tory backbench rebellion against Rishi Sunak’s refusal to allow new onshore wind projects in England, in another challenge to the equalization bill.
The former prime ministers are among around 20 Conservative MPs who have signed an amendment tabled by Simon Clarke, who served as a minister under Johnson and Truss, that would end the de facto ban on new onshore wind that has been in place since 2014.
While Truss supported the resumption of onshore wind, Johnson’s decision to support the change is striking as he did not attempt to reverse the long-standing policy when he was prime minister.
Clarke’s amendment would oblige the government to change planning rules within six months to allow new projects.
This is the second major challenge for the bill. Earlier this week, No. 10 pulled a scheduled vote on the bill after a rebellion over planning policy. An amendment led by former minister Theresa Villiers and supported by more than 50 Tory MPs seeks to scrap mandatory local housing targets and make them advisory only.
The addition of Johnson and Truss to the rebel ranks increases pressure on Sunak over the wind farm issue and the wider sense that he lacks authority as the third prime minister since the election, and one appointed without a vote of Tory MPs .
Since 2014, planning rules have effectively ruled out any new onshore wind farms in England under a tightening of restrictions imposed by David Cameron’s government following pressure from Tory campaigners.
The push for greater energy independence since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted calls to stop this. Truss had promised to change the rules, but was ousted before she was able to do so.
During the summer’s Tory leadership campaign, which Truss won, Sunak set out what he called an “energy sovereignty strategy” which upheld the ban on new ground, prompting Labor to accuse him of “financial illiteracy”.
While latest public list of signatories to Clarke’s amendment shows just two other Tory MPs, Virginia Crosbie and Katherine Fletcher, plus Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, Clarke told the Guardian that around 20 had now pledged support.
As well as Johnson and Truss, these included other former ministers such as Stephen Crabb and Robin Walker.
Clarke, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Johnson and as secretary during Truss’s seven-week premiership, said: “This is really an issue that unites opinion from all wings of the Conservative Party. We should let communities decide whether they want onshore wind or no, perhaps linked to sensible incentives from energy companies, and not introducing a general ban.
“Onshore wind can lower our constituents’ bills, increase our energy independence and protect our environment, and I’m pleased that so many colleagues support this important change.”