Boris Johnson took a swipe at Liz Truss over fracking as he committed £700 million to build a nuclear power plant in Suffolk.
The prime minister said “we must pull our national finger out and get on with Sizewell C” as he attacked previous governments (the Conservative Party has been in power for 12 years) for myopia and short-termism in failing to back nuclear power.
Acknowledging that “families up and down this country are going to face a very tough winter”, Johnson insisted that whoever succeeds him next week “there is going to be a further package that is going to be announced and clearly we have the fiscal firepower to sort it out”.
Liz Truss, favourite to take over from Johnson, has said she would lift a ban on fracking for gas in Britain as well as granting many more North Sea drilling licences. She has also promised to scrap green levies on fuel bills and said that solar panels in fields are “one of the most depressing sights” in the countryside.
But in a speech at Sizewell, on the Suffolk coast, Johnson said fracking was “not going to be the panacea that some people suggest” and that Britain should not “put all our eggs in that particular basket”.
Insisting that renewable electricity was critical to Britain’s needs, he said: “I tell everybody who thinks hydrocarbons are the only answer, we should get fracking and all that: offshore wind is now the cheapest form of electricity in this country. Offshore wind is nine times cheaper than gas.”
He stressed he was not “morally opposed” to fracking, but said he was “slightly dubious that it will prove to be the panacea. I would much rather that we focused on the things where we are brilliant, and where the environmental damage is really minimal, like offshore wind.”
Johnson argued that failing to invest in energy infrastructure was “a false economy”, comparing building power plants to buying a more efficient kettle to reduce electricity bills.
Confirming widespread reports that he wanted to go ahead with a new plant at Sizewell, he said that the project “will help to fix the energy needs not just of this generation but of the next — a baby born this year will be getting energy from Sizewell C long, long after she retires”.
Sizewell C is expected to cost between £20-30 billion and while government commitment is designed to encourage private investment, the project is still not fully funded.
Johnson insisted he was “absolutely confident it will get over the line” because it would be “absolutely madness not to”.
He attacked the “chronic mistakes of the past” in failing to build nuclear plants, pointing out that none had been opened since 1995 despite Britain’s early lead in the technology.
“My blood starts to boil and steam comes out of my ears and I think I’m going to melt down” considering the “short termism of successive British governments”, Johnson said.
He singled out New Labour, saying: “Thanks a bunch Tony, thanks a bunch Gordon”, and blamed Nick Clegg.
The Conservatives have been in power for the past 12 years, during which time no new plants have come online.
“[Nick Clegg] said that the problem was that [a new nuclear plant] wouldn’t even be completed until 2021 or 2022. Gee thanks Nick. It is because of that kind of myopia that here in the country that first split the atom we have only 15 per cent of our electricity from nuclear – and it is falling.”
Contrasting this with France, where 70 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear, Johnson advised his success to have “no more national myopia, no more short termism”.
He advised: “With the prophetic candour and clarity of someone about to hand over the torch of office, I say ‘go nuclear and go large and go with Sizewell C’.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, said: “Sizewell C is massively costly, achingly slow, and carries huge unnecessary risks. Its approval marks Boris Johnson taking one final opportunity to kick the public in the teeth before his departure as prime minister.”
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said he had signed off a new plant at Hinkley Point while business secretary in the coalition, adding: “The Conservatives have been extraordinarily slow, whether it’s on nuclear or renewables or insulating people’s homes. People’s energy bills are a lot higher now than they ought to have been because of the Conservative’s failure on energy.”