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Iceland Boss Accuses Rishi Sunak Of "Neo-Trumpian" Climate Politics

Rishi Sunak celebrating the government's climate proposals as chancellor in 2021. (Alamy)

4 min read

A former Tory donor and supermarket boss who recently switched his support to Labour has accused Rishi Sunak of a "neo-Trumpian" approach to climate politics, but defended Keir Starmer's decision to scrap the £28bn figure from the green investment pledge as "entirely sensible".

Writing for The House, Iceland executive chairman Richard Walker strongly criticised the Conservative party, which he used to support, of "weaponising" climate change and trying to turn it into a "wedge issue" for "short-term political gain".

"Good Tories like Chris Skidmore, who quit Parliament over the issue, know that weaponising the environment in this way can never be in anyone’s interests. It will cost the Conservatives dearly at the ballot box," the Iceland boss wrote.

"At their worst, the Tories – Sunak included – are neo-Trumpian deniers ready to stir divisiveness over climate change with shameful fake news about ‘meat taxes’ and seven bins."

Voters in Kingswood, Skidmore's former constituency will go to the polls in a by-election today after the former Tory MP resigned in protest to the government's Oil and Gas Bill which seeks to liberalise access to environmentally damaging fossil fuels. 

Labour has also recently faced criticism over its approach to tackling climate change after they admitted they would no longer be able to commit to spending £28bn a year on achieving its Green Prosperity Plan, although the core pillars of the proposal, such as achieving clean energy by 2030, remain. 

Walker, who has recently declared his support for Keir Starmer's party, said Labour's decision to scrap the price tag was the right one after Liz Truss' calamitous mini-budget sent interest rates sorrowing and made the pledge unaffordable.

While Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have been criticised for how they handled the decision, with the Tories accusing Labour of a major U-turn and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock calling the presentation "absurdly bad", Walker said it showed the Labour leadership has "the guts to be truthful about what he can and can’t do".

"Working people like my customers have been let down too often with broken promises... Voters deserve that honesty, especially ahead of a general election," he wrote.

Last week, Starmer and Reeves confirmed that they had decided to ditch a 2021 pledge to spend £28bn a year on green investment if elected to government after several weeks of speculation and conflicting messaging about the future of the policy.

Speaking to journalists, the pair said the original spending plan was no longer affordable as a result of the Truss Government "crashing the economy" in 2022 and because the Rishi Sunak administration planned to "max out" the UK's credit card before the next general election.

They stressed that the policies underpinning the figure would remain in place and feature in the party's manifesto, including establishing a publicly-owned energy company called Great British Energy. Labour now plans to spend £23.5bn over the course of its first term in office, which amounts to around £5bn a year.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and Iceland boss Richard Walker (Alamy)

Walker, who announced last month he had switched to supporting Labour, argued that the move would end up putting a Starmer government in a stronger position to spend money because it would reassure the markets and bring down the cost of borrowing.

"Labour’s announcement last week removed the price that was attached to their programme three years ago, when borrowing costs were at rock bottom," he wrote. 

"This change is an entirely sensible move in the light of subsequent economic events following the Government’s budget in Autumn 2022 when the financial markets were spooked by their unfunded spending spree – and we are all still paying the price for that.

"The super-tight fiscal messaging Labour delivered last week will actually help by reassuring markets and so helping to keep borrowing costs on a downward trajectory – which will ultimately boost the Government’s spending power."

Walker was not only a former donor to the Tory party but also tried, unsuccessfully, to stand for the party as one of its general election candidates.

Writing about his decision to switch to Labour in The Guardian last month, he said the opposition party under Starmer's leadership had "progressively moved towards the ground on which I have always stood", while the Conservatives had "moved away from it".

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