The prime minister has this afternoon reiterated his opposition to the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to outer London, saying the scheme is “solely the responsibility of the Labour Party”.
In an interview with GB News, Rishi Sunak said: “I do understand the frustration, and I think that the Mayor and Keir Starmer and the Labour Party should explain to people why they think the right priority at a time when people are already struggling with the cost of living is to impose a charge of £12.50 on them every time they drive into London”.
“I don’t think that’s the right thing to do”, he added.
The ULEZ expansion came into force on Tuesday, meaning every London borough is now covered by the controversial scheme.
The scheme, which London mayor Sadiq Khan has said is to improve the city’s air quality, sees that those using vehicles that do not comply with certain criteria must pay a £12.50-a-day charge.
The expansion has been subject to severe criticism, with cameras used to monitor vehicles entering the zone being vandalised in some instances and counties surrounding London refusing to put up signs warning drivers they are entering the zone.
The ULEZ expansion was also seen as a leading factor for the Conservative’s byelection victory in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, which is captured by the larger zone.
When asked about whether the central government can do anything more to support counties around London or those hit by the new charge, Mr Sunak replied: “This is solely the responsibility of the Labour Party and the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Keir Starmer, it’s for them to explain why they think this is the right thing to do, and they should do that”
He added: “I don’t think it’s the right priority. People have made their views very clear. And now it’s up to them to explain themselves and why they think this is the right thing to do.”
Speaking yesterday to Sky News, Sadiq Khan fiercely defended the expansion as he insisted that air pollution causes health issues in children and adults, and also causes 4,000 premature deaths in London per year.
Mr Khan cited other research from the “vast majority of scientists” that show reductions of up to 50 per cent in central and inner London as a result of the ULEZ.
“What they don’t want is politicians for short-term political gain playing politics with public health and the climate emergency”, he said.
When quizzed on the level of costs spent on housing asylum seekers, Mr Sunak also told GB News this afternoon: “I don’t think that’s right, which is why we’re looking at alternative sites like barges but it’s why fundamentally we’ve got to stop people coming here in the first place. That’s what our ‘stop the boats law’ will enable us to do and I’m glad that we’ve already made progress.”
Mr Sunak then spoke about the new illegal immigration figures, saying: “For the first time the numbers are meaningfully down on the year before so I know people are frustrated but I want them to know that progress is being made.
“These are new things that we are doing that are making a difference and I will keep at it”, he added.