Conservative MPs are being urged to formally pledge that they will never vote for fracking, following months of uncertainty in which successive Tory administrations have flip-flopped over going ahead with drilling operations across the country.
The Liberal Democrats have secured a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday opposing any fracking in England without the support of local communities.
The move is intended to make the current moratorium on fracking, recently reinstated by Rishi Sunak, “U-turn proof”.
The Conservatives backed a “fracking revolution” in their 2017 manifesto – the only party to support the practice – when Theresa May was prime minister, but amid national outcry, this was dropped in 2019 under Boris Johnson.
When Liz Truss and Mr Sunak campaigned against one another to succeed Mr Johnson as prime minister earlier this year they both said they would U-turn on the manifesto pledge and support fracking if local communities supported it.
Following her victory over Mr Sunak, Ms Truss’s energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg lifted the ban on fracking and reportedly began examining ways to reduce environmental and public scrutiny of such drilling projects.
The row escalated after the Labour Party tabled a vote on whether to outlaw fracking, and Ms Truss ordered MPs to vote with her administration on the fraught issue, effectively telling her MPs to vote against a key 2019 manifesto pledge.
Amid farcical scenes in the House of Commons, a Tory revolt ultimately brought down the curtain on Ms Truss’s disastrous premiership.
In total, 326 Conservative MPs voted against a ban, defeating Labour’s motion, but many had felt compelled to vote along party lines, despite their stated opposition to fracking.
After Ms Truss’s record-short stint as prime minister, Mr Sunak then U-turned again, to reinstate the 2019 moratorium.
Liberal Democrat Levelling Up spokesperson Helen Morgan, who secured Tuesday’s debate, told The Independent: “Conservative MPs have lurched to different positions on fracking from month to month. Who knows what they will do next?
“With my debate they now have the opportunity to make amends with the constituents they let down. They need to make clear that they will not support the imposition of fracking on our communities.
“I’m challenging every Conservative MP to pledge in public that they will defend their communities if fracking is imposed on them.”
She added: “Conservative MPs know that fracking won’t bring down energy bills and that their constituents don’t want it. They should put their constituents before their party, be honest with the public about their views, and make the pause on the fracking of our countryside u-turn proof.”
Jamie Peters, fracking campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said Ms Truss had failed to appreciate the contempt for fracking from across the political spectrum, including among Conservatives, and said a ban would let Mr Sunak’s administration to focus on policies to tackle the climate and energy crises.
He told The Independent: “The last prime minister’s attempts to revive fracking saw her government fall to pieces and her premiership along with it. That’s because she underestimated the huge opposition to fracking across the country and within her own ranks.
“At every turn, fracking has been shown to be unviable. Introducing a firm and final ban on fracking would allow the government to focus on real solutions that will genuinely ease the cost of living crisis and protect our planet.”
Philip Evans, oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the “constant uncertainty” caused by the government’s stance on fracking has been disastrous for the country.
He said: “Last month, 326 Conservative MPs u-turned on their 2019 manifesto pledge by voting for an unpopular, unproven fracking industry that has no future. Then three weeks ago, Rishi Sunak decided the ban would stay in place – local communities don’t want the heavy traffic, noise and air pollution, and the risk of earthquakes didn’t help.
“If fracking did take place, it would be disastrous for local communities and the climate, but this constant uncertainty has been almost as damaging. People have spent years dedicated to fighting fracking in their areas and they have been left in limbo, because of a government that can’t make their minds up, and can’t be trusted to keep their word.”