Rishi Sunak slams ‘volatile’ Keir Starmer for chasing ‘cheap political hit’ after Labor vows to derail plans to build thousands more homes by scrapping EU-era pollution rules as PM faces defeat in the House of Lords tonight
By Greg Heffer, Mailonline political correspondent
13:03 13 September 2023, updated 13:59 13 September 2023
Rishi Sunak today criticized Sir Keir Starmer for “flipping” after Labor pledged to block his plans to scrap EU-era environmental rules to boost house building.
The Prime Minister claimed the “unprincipled” Labor leader was seeking a “cheap political hit” by threatening to defeat the government in the House of Lords.
Peers are set to vote tonight on ministers’ bid to relax “food neutrality” requirements for developers raised in Brussels.
The government claimed that easing the rules would “unlock” more than 100,000 homes between now and 2030 in an £18bn boost to the economy.
But Labor said it would block the “reckless and irresponsible” proposal, which they claim will further pollute the river and threaten the environment.
Current rules mean developers building new homes in protected areas are required to provide mitigation to ensure no new additional nutrients reach rivers and lakes.
Excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways can lead to algae blooms that deprive plants and other animals of light and oxygen.
The government has claimed that although nutrients entering rivers represent a “real problem”, the contribution made by new homes is “very small”.
They have proposed “doing away” food neutrality rules in changes to the Settlement and Renewal Bill, which is going through the Lords.
As well as easing the rules, ministers promised to introduce “new environmental measures” to “tackle pollution at source and restore habitats”.
Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner and Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reid confirmed their party’s opposition to the government’s plan.
This is despite Lisa Nandy, who was recently sacked as shadow chancellor and housing and communities minister by Sir Keir, previously indicated Labor would support the motion.
In an article published in The Times today, Ms. Rayner and Mr. Reed wrote: “We must build the homes people need while also protecting the environment in which we live. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
“The government’s proposed solution to this challenge is very problematic.
“It will allow councils to ignore environmental regulations and allow new housing development without mitigating environmental damage on the basis that the nutrient pollution problem will be solved by other means.”
“Not only would their approach significantly weaken environmental law and increase river pollution, it would fatally undermine the emerging market in nutrient pollution reduction that developers already benefit from.”
Labour’s opposition to the plans significantly increases the government’s chances of defeat on the proposal in a Lords vote tonight.
Their fellow Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are already opposing the plans, as are Tory rebels such as former minister Lord Goldsmith.
Mr Sunak clashed with Sir Keir ahead of tonight’s vote during a Prime Minister’s Question in the House of Commons this afternoon.
He told the Labor leader: “Today this government is taking action to reform flawed EU laws to unlock more than 100,000 homes – boosting our economy, supporting jobs and ensuring we can deliver on homeowners’ aspirations.”
“He (Sir Keir) talks about trust – he tried in this House to talk about building houses. But at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He gave up.
“Instead of making the right long-term decisions for the country, he took the easy way out,” he added. This is typical of the kind of unprincipled, conviction-free leadership he provides.
“Flipping from being a builder to a blocker, the British people cannot trust a word he says.”
A spokesman for Sir Keir later denied that Labor had backed down on the issue, as they described the government’s plans as “hasty and flawed”.
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