RISHI SUNAK
In this video grab taken from footage broadcast by the UK Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) via the Parliament TV website on October 26, 2022, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during his first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons. Image Credit: AFP

London: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday reinstated a ban on fracking in England, dropping a previous pledge to permit the practice that his predecessor Liz Truss enacted during her short tenure.

The ruling Tories had introduced a moratorium on controversial gas fracking in England after committing to a ban in a 2019 manifesto that saw them elected with an 80-seat majority.

However, after ex-prime minister Boris Johnson announced his imminent departure in July, Truss and Sunak battled to replace him.

Both said they would allow fracking - drilling into the ground to extract oil and gas from shale rock - where there was local consent.

Truss in particular argued it would diversify and strengthen the UK’s energy supplies, as she also unveiled plans to accelerate North Sea offshore oil and gas exploitation.

Following her election by Conservative members early last month, she lifted the moratorium - despite huge opposition from environmentalists and others, including some members of her parliamentary party.

But after her tax-slashing mini-budget sparked an economic crisis and led to her ousting from office after just 49 days, Sunak took over in Downing Street on Tuesday and swiftly reversed course on the proposals and his prior stance.

“I stand by the manifesto on that,” he told MPs when asked about allowing fracking at his first “Prime Minister’s Questions” in parliament.

“We will deliver on what we said at COP because we care deeply about passing our children an environment in a better state than we found it ourselves,” he added, referring to last year’s COP26 climate summit hosted in Scotland.

The new leader’s official spokesman reiterated the policy shift, telling reporters immediately afterwards that Sunak was “committed to delivering on the promise of the manifesto” that banned fracking.

Johnson’s government called a halt to the technique used to release hydrocarbons locked deep underground due to fears it could trigger earthquakes.

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace UK hailed the new leader’s U-turn.

“We welcome this decision and urge Sunak to also halt all new licences for oil and gas exploration,” it tweeted.

However, right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has close links to Truss, called the change “an error” and a sign of “political weakness”.

“To rely on imported gas when we have 50-100 years supply under our feet is not a stance rooted in science or economics,” its chief operating officer Andy Mayer said.