“[W]hen Brexiteers speak about clumsy policies, we would be well-advised to listen,” said one diplomat, granted anonymity to speak frankly. “They tend to be experts at them.”
A second diplomat simply said: “Britain …. Who’s Britain? Didn’t they leave the EU?”
Niels Fuglsang MEP, who led the European Parliament’s negotiations on a key plank of its landmark Green Deal, was even more critical. “It is not clumsy climate policies from the EU that are causing social unrest,” he said, but “rather it is the economic inequality which has risen sharply during the last decade, especially in the U.K., because of irresponsible economic policies.”
The £28 billion question
Sunak’s Conservative Party is trailing far behind Keir Starmer’s Labour in polling ahead of a U.K. general election, which is expected later this year. But Coutinho said voters should back her party because over 14 years in government it had thought “very carefully about what works with the grain of the British public” on climate policy.
She repeated a well-worn attack on Labour’s contested plans to increase public investment spending on climate interventions to £28 billion a year. “They can’t tell you how they are going to pay for [it],” Coutinho said. “I think people are right to question that.”
Coutinho, who was promoted to energy secretary last summer, is marking one year since the U.K. created a dedicated department for energy security and net zero. A former Treasury adviser, she is tipped by some in the party as a future chancellor and leadership contender.
Asked about speculation that she could succeed current chancellor Jeremy Hunt before the election, Coutinho said that reshuffle gossip was a “Westminster sickness.”
“Do you need to see a doctor?” she asked POLITICO.