Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

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The former culture secretary Nadine Dorries should “settle down a little while”, the climate minister has said, amid an increasingly bitter row among Conservative MPs.

Senior Tories have been divided recently over what should happen to benefits payments amid the cost of living crisis. The government has not ruled out a real-terms cut. But some MPs, even cabinet ministers, have publicly expressed serious concern.

And new polling suggests half of 2019 Conservative voters – and a majority of the public – back the idea of raising benefits in line with inflation over No 10’s preferred option: a rise in line with the average increase in workers’ pay.

Dorries, herself a former minister, has said the new prime minister Liz Truss has made some “big mistakes” in her first few weeks in office and suggested the government is “lurching to the right” and risks losing the next election.

Speaking to the Times, she described the prospect of a real-terms cut to benefits this year as “cruel, unjust and fundamentally unconservative”. That came after she publicly questioned Truss’s mandate for a new government direction.

Asked about Dorries’ comments on Sky News, Stuart said:

We’ve just done, with this energy support package, one of the biggest interventions by the state to help people we’ve ever seen. The commitment to net-zero is there.

I know how bruising it can be when you leave government, and, you know, I think what I did and I would certainly advise Nadine to … is just to settle down a little while and let the new team get on with the job, and that’s what we’re doing.

Funding for a second Scottish independence referendum will not be cut, the nation’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Appearing on BBC Breakfast, Sturgeon was asked if the budget to prepare for another independence referendum – for which around £20m has been set aside – will be cut in order to support people further with the cost-of-living crisis.

We’re talking about this financial year and the independence referendum, I hope, will be in the next financial year. So, even if we did, which we’re not going to because I was elected as first minister on a commitment to democracy … I was elected with a record share of the vote in the Scottish parliament elections last year on a record turnout. So. we’re going to deliver on that commitment to people.

Referring to the concerns around energy supply this winter, Stuart has said the government is not telling people to use less. Speaking to Sky News, he said:

We are not sending that out as a message. All of us have bills, of course, and the bills have gone up.

He said the government has stepped in to “protect” businesses and families from rising energy bills.

While No 10’s decision to cap energy prices at a level that would see the average household paying a maximum of £2,500 per year means they would be spared the £3,549 bill Ofgem had allowed for, it still represents a roughly 25% increase on the current cap.

Stuart has claimed the new licensing round for oil and gas exploration is “entirely compatible” with climate targets. Asked how during an interview on BBC Breakfast, he said:

One thing for everyone to remember, as well as ensuring our energy security, which is a top priority for the government, we have one of the lowest emitting production systems for oil and gas.

So, as we are going to use oil and gas, and we will still be using about a quarter of the level of gas even in 2050 under our net-zero approach, just because we will net that out, then actually having our own domestic gas is good for the economy.

Moreover, the climate minister claimed:

Actually it’s good for the environment because, when we burn our own gas, it’s got lower emissions around its production than foreign gas … as well as supporting British jobs.

Our development is not going to affect our usage, our usage is determined by the framework of the Climate Change Act and the independent climate change committee which informs government policy.

So, you really can be assured that it’s actually – I know it sounds contradictory – but it’s actually good for the environment that we are going to produce more of our gas and oil at home.

Government refuses to rule out energy rationing

The climate minister would not rule out energy rationing when asked this morning. Speaking to LBC, Graham Stuart said:

The National Grid, we get to do it independently, and they do their assessment. They’ve said it’s very unlikely.

Asked again, he said “it’s impossible to…”, before being interrupted and pressed over whether the government’s position was a u-turn on Liz Truss’s position during her leadership campaign.

Asked a third time, Stuart said:

We are not planning to have that. It is not our intention to have it and we are doing everything possible to mean that it should not happen.

And, pressed over the apparent change in rhetoric on the issue, Stuart said:

Events move on, as you well know. We’ve seen all sorts of threats to our energy security.

Stuart has also indicated that Downing Street does not wish to intervene to try to reduce consumption in a bid to manage the problem and claimed a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea would actually be “good for the environment”.

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