Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says the former net zero chief is “wrong” after he quit the Tory party in protest of the government’s decision to ramp up oil and gas drilling.
Chris Skidmore resigned as an MP on Friday, accusing the government of “rowing ever further back from its climate commitments”.
Speaking on Saturday, Mr Hunt – who praised Mr Skidmore’s work as energy minister on climate change – said he “profoundly” disagrees with his reason for stepping down.
“The point is, I think he is wrong on North Sea oil and gas,” he told the BBC.
“When you have the problems in the Red Sea [with shipping routes under attack], it is very important for energy security that we have domestic sources of that kind of energy as we go into transition.”
It comes ahead of a vote in parliament on Monday on the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which, if passed, would mandate that licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea are awarded annually.
Mr Skidmore said he could not vote for legislation that “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas”.
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“To fail to act, rather than merely speak out, is to tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained,” he said in his resignation statement.
But Mr Hunt said the independent panel for climate change state the UK will still get a “significant proportion” of energy from fossil fuels “even when we reach net zero in 2050”.
“And domestic oil and gas is four times cleaner than imported oil and gas,” he added.
Mr Skidmore’s decision leaves Prime Minister Rishi Sunak facing two tricky by-elections in early 2024, with another already in motion after voters last month ousted scandal-hit Peter Bone in Wellingborough.
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Kingswood, in South Gloucestershire, had been held by Mr Skidmore since 2010, after beating second-placed Labour by 11,220 votes at the last general election in 2019.
But that margin is far smaller than in the last two by-election defeats Labour handed to the Tories, with a majority of more than 24,000 overturned in Mid Bedfordshire and more than 19,000 in Tamworth.
Labour says it will vote against Monday’s oil and gas legislation and has challenged Mr Sunak to call a general election rather than undergo more by-elections.
The prime minister has indicated the country will go to the polls in the second half of 2024.