March 2, 2024

UK opposition leader Keir Starmer said oil and gas would remain part of the country’s energy mix “for many, many years,” as he sought to reassure union critics of his plans to phase out fossil fuels from the North Sea.

Labour Party proposals to ban all new North Sea oil and gas licenses are “naive” and would create a “cliff edge” for the industry that will hit jobs, GMB General Secretary Gary Smith told Sky News on Sunday. That came after Sharon Graham, who heads the Unite union, said on Twitter that there needed to be a properly planned transition to “guarantee jobs, pay and conditions for all the tens of thousands of workers in the North Sea and supporting industries.

@UKLabour must now be very clear that they will not let workers pay the price for the transition to renewable energy. When it comes to jobs we can’t have jam tomorrow. 2/3

— Sharon Graham (@UniteSharon) May 30, 2023

The criticism from the unions will be of concern to Starmer as he gears up to fight a general election by January 2025. On current polling — Labour enjoy a double-digit lead over the ruling Conservatives — the opposition would win a national vote.

Both the GMB and Unite are affiliates and financial backers of the Labour Party. The GMB contributed more than £1.2 million ($1.5 million) last year, and Unite more than £750,000, according to Electoral Commission data. 

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity now to seize the jobs of the future,” Starmer told reporters on a visit to the Hinkley C nuclear power project in western England on Monday. “Oil and gas will be part of that, because where there are existing licenses; they will go on to the 2050s and so oil and gas will be part of our energy mix for many, many years to come.”

Starmer went on to say that the “next generation” of jobs would be in renewable energy and in nuclear power. Those are two industries the opposition party has long advocated, and under its “Climate Investment Pledge,” a Labour government would invest £28 billion a year in green industries, including targets for onshore and offshore wind, solar, tidal and nuclear power and hydrogen.

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