Reform pledges net zero referendum in fresh challenge to Sunak

Richard Tice said his party would support a Brexit-style poll on the 2050 climate target
Richard Tice said his party would support a Brexit-style poll on the 2050 climate target - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Reform UK has pledged to hold a referendum on net zero in a fresh challenge to Rishi Sunak.

Richard Tice, the Reform leader, said his insurgent party would support a Brexit-style poll on the 2050 climate target, which he has argued is damaging the economy and voters’ lives.

Mr Sunak ruled out a referendum last summer after facing pressure from Tory MPs, including senior figures in Red Wall seats, to “rethink the headlong rush for net zero”.

In 2022, Mr Tice and Nigel Farage, the honorary president of Reform, were involved in Vote Power, Not Poverty, a short-lived campaign group calling for the public to have its say on green targets first enshrined in law by Theresa May.

Committing his party to the same pledge, Mr Tice told The Telegraph: “We have supported this for two years, but Sunak ruled it out a few months ago. We still support it.”

Lee Anderson, a former Tory deputy chairman who defected last month to become Reform’s first MP, said: “The general election is a referendum on net zero, migration, culture, education, taxation, our Armed Forces, pensioners and the NHS. Vote Reform and sort out the above.”

A Government source told the Telegraph: “Under the Conservatives, we are the first major economy to halve our emissions. We’ve done this in a pragmatic way, whilst growing our economy and shielding families from the unnecessary costs and extra taxes, which Labour want to impose.”

In August, Mr Sunak said there was “broad support” for a “common sense” path to net zero by 2050, despite the Government postponing a number of shorter-term green objectives, including a five-year delay to the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars.

YouGov polling from last summer showed that 71 per cent of voters supported the overall net zero target, suggesting Reform would face an uphill battle were a referendum to take place.

The survey found that 63 per cent of Conservative voters backed the target, compared to 29 per cent who opposed, falling to 61 per cent to 28 per cent among those who voted for Brexit.

The existing net zero goal was backed by Boris Johnson at the 2019 election, and the Tory manifesto included a pledge of “reaching net zero by 2050, with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution”.

Mr Tice’s promise on Monday marked the latest move by Reform to outflank the Conservatives on the Right. Other policies include a “one in, one out” immigration plan, leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and sweeping cuts to taxes.

Reform is currently polling as high as 16 per cent, within a handful of percentage points of the Tories, as it bolsters its support among voters who backed Mr Johnson in 2019 but have become disillusioned.

Hostilities  between Reform and the Tories have escalated in recent days, with Mr Tice telling a Tory MP who was critical of his candidates to “pipe down”, leading Richard Holden, the Conservative chairman, to accuse him of being a “threatening bully”.

It came as a poll by the Legatum Institute found more than two in five voters currently planning to vote for Reform were more likely to opt for the Conservatives if they promised a national referendum on immigration.

Forty-two per cent said the promise of a public vote on bringing down the rate of net migration from around 700,000 to less than 100,000 would make them more likely to vote Tory, although a further 40 per cent said they would not back the Conservatives regardless.

The survey also showed that seven in 10 Reform voters believed net zero measures had made life in Britain worse, with that number rising to 85 per cent when asked about migration.