Jacob Rees-Mogg has told staff Britain “must get every cubic inch of gas out of the North Sea”, a leaked video shows. Critics have accused the business secretary of “putting his ideology before the climate” and “greenwashing fossil fuels” by prioritising gas over renewables.
A video, passed to the Guardian by a whistleblower, shows Rees-Mogg telling an all-staff meeting in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Wednesday that the public needs to be persuaded that fossil fuels are the answer.
In it, he says they will be “handing out lots of money” to get Britain producing more gas, and that he is aware some will say this is “not free market enough”.
Rees-Mogg said the mission of his department would be to “get back to national security within energy so using as much of our own resources as is possible”, adding: “It is unquestionably more environmentally friendly to use our own gas which doesn’t have to be liquefied, doesn’t have to be transported thousands of miles, than it is to pull in gas from overseas, and if we want therefore to be both prosperous and green we need to use our own resources.”
He added: “And that is why I have said we have to get every cubic inch of gas out of the North Sea, because actually it’s better for our economy and it’s greener. And this will be a challenge for us to get out to the country because one side will say we are not being austere enough, and the other will say we are not being free market enough.”
However, critics said the mission of Rees-Mogg’s department should not be to exploit more fossil fuels but to boost investment in renewables and insulation.
Greenpeace’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said: “The government’s business department should be the coordinating hub for the hi-tech, clean industrial revolution we desperately need to cut emissions, lower bills and create jobs. Instead, it sounds like Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to drag it back in time, turning it into the political arm of the fossil fuel industry.
“And so we have laughable greenwash about fossil fuels being green taken seriously at the heart of government, and a complete failure to understand the direction the global economy is moving in. If the government sticks to this wrong turn, we are all going to be worse off except for fossil fuel giants already profiteering from this crisis.”
Fellow politicians said they were not surprised Rees-Mogg acknowledged that these fossil fuel policies did not have public support.
The Green party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This leaked video simply confirms Jacob Rees-Mogg’s utterly shameful, climate-wrecking intentions – he is the worst possible energy secretary at the worst possible moment.
“Yet more North Sea gas doesn’t make bills cheaper, doesn’t deliver energy security, and as Rees-Mogg himself now acknowledges, clearly doesn’t have public support. What it does do is pour fuel on the fire of the climate emergency when we have a vanishingly small window of opportunity to tackle it, and when it is nine times more expensive than renewables. This gas must be kept deep in the ground, and if he doesn’t understand why, he must be kept far away from government.”
The Liberal Democrat energy and climate change spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, said: “The idea that more gas is the solution to a gas crisis is ridiculous. No wonder Jacob Rees-Mogg was first to say it would be a hard sell. The Conservatives themselves have even said that this will make no difference to the price of energy, but it’s clear they’re happy to put their own ideology ahead of people and the climate.
“To bring down bills we need significant investment in new renewables and action to make our homes warmer to reduce our addiction to gas.”
Scientists have also warned that licensing new North Sea oil and gas fields is incompatible with the UK’s climate commitments to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and achieve net zero by 2050.
Rees-Mogg’s team said the secretary of state and the prime minister believe exploiting our domestic oil and gas reserves is vital for energy security and supply, and that they believe it is greener to use our own sources than importing from abroad.