U.K. Government Introduces Pro-Motorist Policies Amid Growing “Greenlash”
The U.K. government has recently implemented a series of pro-motorist policies, joining other countries in responding to a political backlash against Europe’s green agenda. The move comes as citizens across Europe express resistance to the high costs associated with ambitious environmental policies, leading some governments to revise their targets.
Transport Minister Mark Harper announced new concessions for motorists, aiming to protect drivers from what he called “over-zealous traffic enforcement.” These measures include limitations on councils’ ability to impose speed limits, restrictions on car traffic bans from bus lanes, and the introduction of a national system to simplify parking payments.
The decision by the ruling Conservative Party reflects their efforts to secure support from voters, particularly those residing in rural areas who feel unfairly burdened by green transport policies. Harper emphasized the party’s pro-car stance, stating, “We stand for freedom to travel how you want.”
During his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Harper criticized the concept of “15-minute cities,” an urban planning idea promoting accessibility to amenities within a short walk or cycle. He labeled the notion as “sinister,” citing conspiracy theories that emerged during the Covid-19 lockdowns, falsely claiming it was part of a government plot to control populations. Harper called for an end to the misuse of this concept, despite no evidence that local councils currently ration road use.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had previously diluted the U.K.’s green agenda by delaying the ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, citing the need to alleviate financial burdens on households. Additionally, Sunak recently announced the cancellation of a section of the HS2 high-speed rail network, redirecting funds towards local transport projects and road network improvements. These decisions align with Sunak’s campaign slogan, “Long-term decisions for a brighter future,” as he seeks to reaffirm his leadership among more radical factions within the Conservative Party.
The U.K.’s shift in green policies reflects a broader trend of increasing politicization across Europe. Germany recently passed a modified version of a controversial heating law, postponing the phaseout of gas boilers. In the Netherlands, plans to reduce nitrogen pollution led to a surprising electoral victory for a new farmers’ protest party. France and Belgium have also called for a pause on the European Union’s green legislative agenda.
In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan faced backlash for expanding the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to all boroughs, with critics protesting against the higher fees involved. Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, reiterated the government’s position, stating that the public should not be forced to adopt green measures. She criticized the opposition Labour Party for attempting to coerce the public into making greener choices, describing their plans as toxic and potentially undermining support for net zero goals.
As the U.K. government responds to the “greenlash” and seeks to balance environmental concerns with public sentiment, the impact of these pro-motorist policies will continue to be closely watched.