Michael Gove has urged Liz Truss to reconsider energy rationing for businesses this winter, after she rejected the idea at Wednesday’s final Tory leadership hustings.
Gove said the UK should follow other European countries in urging companies to show restraint in their use of electricity and gas.
While he admitted it was “not something that would come naturally to me or any Conservative”, he said Truss, who is expected to win the leadership contest and become prime minister next week, should prioritise ensuring there is enough energy for households during the worsening cost of living crisis.
Truss has been under pressure for a week to reveal what extra support will be offered to people who will struggle to pay their bills after it was announced that the energy price cap would jump by 80% in October. Further rises are expected in January and April.
While she has reiterated her preference for temporarily scrapping green levies on energy bills and reversing the controversial national insurance hike, Truss has remained tight-lipped about the prospect of extra support payments and disparaged the idea of “handouts”.
At the final hustings in London, her rival, Rishi Sunak, said “we shouldn’t rule anything out”, after the French government warned it might have to ration energy and urged company bosses to take steps to curb consumption. But Truss rejected the proposal.
Gove, who is supporting Sunak, said “nobody likes the idea of rationing” but added: “If we look at our European neighbours and others, there have been some restrictions on the use of energy in non-domestic settings.”
Though he said he was opposed to “individuals rationing energy”, Gove cautioned: “It may be the case that in certain non-domestic settings, that there needs to be some form of restraint in the way that energy is used.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think any of us wants to have the sorts of interventions that rationing implies – it’s not something that would come naturally to me or any Conservative. However, when we face a crisis of the kind that we do at the moment, then we have to prioritise. And I think prioritising the poorest, prioritising domestic energy use, that has to be the way to go.”
Gove said Sunak would tackle the energy price crisis with a Covid-style response, like the furlough scheme, and he insisted the former chancellor would offer “radical and compassionate” support.
Discussing Truss’s promised tax cuts, Gove said they would be introduced too quickly and would not benefit the lowest earners and pensioners.
Under the government’s latest “reasonable worst-case scenario”, published in August, businesses and even consumers could face blackouts this winter. Officials believe that without energy rationing, the UK could experience blackouts for several days in January if cold weather combines with gas shortages to leave the country short of power.
Truss told Tory members on Wednesday night that the new chancellor, expected to be Kwasi Kwarteng, currently the business secretary, would look at more household support, whether in an emergency budget or other smaller fiscal event.
In her clearest sign yet she would back further payments on top of those already pledged for this winter, Truss said in an article for the Sun that she would “deliver immediate support to ensure people are not facing unaffordable fuel bills”.
She said people should trust her “to rise to the challenge”, and her policies for helping people to weather the cost of living crisis would be “radical”.
The leadership contest result will be announced on Monday and the new prime minister will assume office the following day.