The PM has come under pressure from some in his party to scale back plans to enforce electric car production rules as part of the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles.
The government is said to be ready to set out its final plan for the forced transition to electric cars within weeks – with binding targets on UK carmakers to produce more in the immediate years ahead.
Despite being urged by net zero sceptics to relax the rules, No 10 and the Department for Transport confirmed Mr Sunak would stick with both the 2030 ban and interim targets set to begin in 2024.
It will require 22 per cent of all new cars sold next year to be electric vehicles, increasing to 50 per cent in 2028. Manufacturers who fail to comply with the targets face fines of up to £15,000 per car.
Mr Sunak vowed to be “pragmatic” about net zero plans after the surprise Uxbridge byelection win in July, with London mayor Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) charging scheme widely credited with handing the Tories victory.
The PM told drivers he is “on their side” and ordered a review of controversial low-emission schemes aimed at phasing out high-polluting vehicles.
Business secretary Kemi Badenoch has reportedly lobbied along with senior Tory backbenchers for greater flexibility on the interim targets in the so-called Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate.
Senior Tory Craig Mackinlay, chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, told The Independent that the targets would be mean that “we enter a new strange and dystopian pathway” that defied capitalist choice.
“The government’s intention to ban internal combustion engine cars and vans from 2030 looks increasingly isolationist as the USA and EU push targets to 2035 and beyond. The beneficiaries will be Chinese carmakers whilst further putting the battery supply chain in the hands of, at best, an unfriendly power,” he added.
But British carmakers are largely comfortable with the rules because they want to boost the electric car market and allow investors to create more charging points.
Mike Hawes of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said: “Carmakers are committed to the decarbonisation of their products … Manufacturers have invested billions of pounds into this transition and now need the market to accelerate.”
Ministers promised BMW that they would stick with strict ZEV mandate targets during negotiations on a £600m investment to build electric Minis in the UK, according to The Times.
Chris Skidmore, the former Tory minister who led the government’s net zero review, has urged Mr Sunak to ignore calls to water down or delay rules.
The senior MP said Mr Sunak should want the UK to “lead and succeed” in the climate transition “or be condemned to following, to missing out, on these opportunities and costing the UK and local communities jobs and economic growth”.
MPs will still get the chance to vote down the planned rules however. The DfT has made clear that the ZEV mandate will need be passed by a vote in parliament under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
The DfT refused to confirm if it remained committed to the 2024 start date for the mandate, saying the start date would be published “in due course”.