'Smoke And Mirrors': Former Tory Minister Slams Rishi Sunak's Plans For More North Sea Drilling

Alok Sharma said the government should be expanding wind and solar power instead.
Alok Sharma is angry with the government.
Alok Sharma is angry with the government.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

A former Tory cabinet minister has launched an outspoken attack on Rishi Sunak’s plan for more oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.

Alok Sharma hit out as the prime minister braces himself for a backbench rebellion later today over a controversial energy bill.

The bill would see licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea issued on an annual basis.

The government says that will boost domestic energy supply, make the UK less reliant on importing oil and gas from abroad and could bring down bills.

But on Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, Sharma - who is a former energy secretary and president of the COP 26 climate summit - blasted the offshore petroleum licensing bill.

He said: “I will not be voting for this bill, and as it’s currently drafted, this bill is a total distraction. It is actually a smoke and mirrors bill which frankly changes nothing.

“The North Sea Transition Authority, which is the body that actually grants oil and gas licences, can already grant licences when they think it’s necessary, and the energy department has made pretty clear that irrespective of this bill, that will not change.

“But what this bill does do is reinforce that unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action.

“We saw this last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies, and actually not being serious about meeting our international commitments.

“Just a few weeks ago, at COP28, the UK signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. This bill is about doubling down on granting more oil and gas production licences. It’s actually the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally, so I won’t be supporting it.”

He added: “I think the time that is being spent on this bill could be better spent by ministers pushing forward on plans for a clean energy transition and actually supporting people access the jobs of the future.

“One of the things thew government has said is that this bill is about improving domestic energy security, but the reality is that the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is owned by private companies. The government doesn’t get to control who they sell to.

“The price of oil and gas is also set internationally, so it won’t necessarily lower domestic energy bills either.”

The former minister went on: “If you really want to enhance energy security and bring down bills, the government should be delivering on its ambitious plans on expanding homegrown clean energy - a lot more wind power and a lot more solar.”

Sharma’s comments came just days after another former Tory energy minister, Chris Skidmore, announced he was quitting as an MP in protest at the government’s position.

Skidmore, who led the government’s net zero review, said the new legislation “would in effect allow more frequent new oil and gas licences and the increased production of new fossil fuels in the North Sea”.


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