‘A total distraction’: Alok Sharma on ‘smoke and mirrors’ plan for more North Sea oil drilling

Sir Alok Sharma has said he will not vote for the government’s oil and gas bill, criticising it as “smoke and mirrors”.

Sharma, who served as president of the COP26 Glasgow climate summit in 2021, accused the government of not being “serious” about its international climate commitments. 

The oil and gas bill, which would allow for an annual licensing regime for oil and gas exploration contracts, is set to be debated by MPs today. 

Sharma’s comments come after another former minister, Chris Skidmore, resigned his seat over the bill.

“I can also no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of action that I know is wrong and will cause future harm”, Skidmore said in a statement released last week on X (formerly Twitter). 

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, a centre piece of the King’s Speech last year, he argued “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas”.

Speaking this morning, Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I will not be voting for this bill and as it’s currently drafted, this bill is a total distraction. It is actually a smoke and mirrors bill which frankly changes nothing. 

“The North Sea Transition Authority, which is the body that actually grants oil and gas licences, can already grant licences when they think it’s necessary and the Energy Department has made pretty clear that with respect of this bill, that will not change. 

He added: “What this bill does do is reinforce that unfortunate perception about the UK rowing back from climate action.”

“We saw this last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies and actually not being serious about our international commitments. Just a few weeks ago at COP28 the UK government signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. 

“This bill is actually about doubling down on new oil and gas licences. It is actually the opposite of what we agreed to do internationally, so I won’t be supporting it.”

Chris Skidmore to stand down as Conservative MP over ‘harmful’ oil and gas plans

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