Michael Gove has warned against turning climate change into a “religious crusade” after the Tories narrowly won by-elections in Uxbridge and South Ruislip to oppose the extension of Euless.
The minister said he supported moves to encourage people to walk and cycle more, but some car journeys were essential.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Gove said it was “irresponsible” to increase the charge for polluting cars outside of London.
“One of the dangers – I don’t think Labor is alive to this – is if people think you treat the cause of the environment as a religious crusade, in which you divide the world into good and bad, you alienate the support that thoughtful environmentalism needs.”
Labor overturned a Conservative majority of 20,000 in the North Yorkshire seat of Selby and Ainsty, but lost in Uxbridge by 495 votes.
Sir Keir Starmer held talks with London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday, urging him to “consider” proposals to extend Ulez to all London boroughs. It currently covers but does not include central London and the areas up to the North and South Circular Roads.
Mr Gove cited Dutch protests over pollution controls as reasons for ministers to be cautious about moving ahead with environmental legislation.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir urged on Saturday not to water down environmental commitments despite the Conservatives’ victory in the by-election.
Tory MPs have called on Sunak to review the government’s pledge to have a net zero carbon economy in the UK by 2050.
But the UK Government’s Net Zero Sir Chris Skidmore warned ministers against playing politics on environmental issues, arguing it would cost the Tories long-term.
The Conservative MP said: “To do so would not only be regrettable, but would be an abdication of the Government’s responsibility to protect public life and health and an opportunity for economic growth by investing in the industries of the future.
“It’s really bad politics because the environment and action against climate change are consistently polling third on the issues voters care about.”