Rishi unveils plan to skewer Labour over North Sea oil

  • Plan will also highlight Keir Starmer’s plan to ban new exploration in North Sea

Ministers will be required to consider new licences for North Sea oil exploration each year under legislation designed to strengthen Britain’s energy security – and skewer Labour.

Rishi Sunak will use tomorrow’s King’s Speech to bring forward legislation to ‘mandate’ an annual regime for licensing new drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea to ‘safeguard the prosperity of our country’.

A government source said the plan would ‘bolster energy security, reducing reliance on imports from hostile foreign regimes such as Russia’ and ‘leaving us less exposed to unpredictable international forces’.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho said it was ‘common sense’ to try to meet demand for fossil fuels from domestic sources rather than ‘importing dirtier fuels’.

But Tory strategists believe the plans will also cause Labour trouble by highlighting Sir Keir Starmer’s controversial pledge to ban new exploration in the North Sea.

Rishi Sunak will use tomorrow's King's Speech to bring forward legislation to allow for an annual regime of oil and gas licences in the North Sea

The plan would ‘bolster energy security, reducing reliance on imports from hostile foreign regimes such as Russia, a government source said

The plans could also spell trouble for Labour by highlighting Sir Keir Starmer's plan to ban new exploration in the North Sea

The Labour leader and his energy spokesman Ed Miliband have boasted they will issue no new licences for the North Sea in plans to switch to 100 per cent ‘clean energy’ by 2030.

What’s in the King’s Speech? 

  • Sentencing – Tougher sentences for criminals convicted of the most serious violent and sexual offences, including an end to early release for rapists. Judges will be given powers to force criminals to attend sentencing hearings.
  • Crime – Tackling acquisitive crime with new police powers to search suspects’ homes for stolen goods, without a warrant in some cases.
  • Health – Legislation to phase out smoking by raising the legal age for buying cigarettes by one year every year. Driving – Bringing forward legislation making it harder for councils to impose blanket 20mph clean air zones.
  • Housing – Delivering a manifesto pledge to end no-fault evictions in the rental sector.
  • Israel – Revive plans for laws to ban councils and public bodies from imposing political boycotts of Israeli goods.
  • Press freedom – A new Media Bill will repeal measures that could force publishers to pay the legal costs of people who sue them, even if claims are thrown out.


The move has led to warnings that the UK will become increasingly dependent on oil and gas imports from abroad, which have a higher carbon footprint due to transportation and production factors. 

It has also led to tensions with trade union leaders who warn that running down the North Sea could put up to 200,000 jobs at risk and damage the economy.

Legislation to be set out in the King’s Speech will require the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) to invite applications for new production licences on an annual basis.

Mr Sunak said: ‘I am proud that the UK is a world leader in reducing emissions, and of our new plan to transition to net zero without adding undue burdens on households and securing the country’s long-term interest.

‘Domestic energy will play a crucial role in the transition to net zero, supporting jobs and economic growth, while also protecting us from the volatility of international markets and diversifying our energy sources.’

Ms Coutinho added: ‘It’s common sense to make the most of homegrown advantages and use oil, gas, wind and hydrogen on our doorstep in the North Sea.’

Each annual licensing round will take place only if key tests are met to support the transition to net zero, including that the UK must be projected to import more oil and gas from other countries than it produces at home, and that carbon emissions associated with the production of British gas are lower than the equivalent emissions from imported liquefied natural gas.

If both tests are met, the NSTA must invite applications for new licences annually, with ministers signing off on decisions.

Offshore Energies UK chief executive David Whitehouse welcomed the plan, saying: ‘A predictable licensing process with transparent checks will support the highly skilled people working in the sector, while ensuring the granting of new licences is compatible with energy security and net zero.’


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