London mayor Sadiq Khan has accused the government of “mock anger” as he defended his controversial ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) policy to the hilt.
Ahead of ULEZ being expanded into London’s suburbs on Tuesday - and its unpopularity with some motorists - Khan told the Sunday Times he’ll be on the “right side of history” amid climate change.
With the zone set to cover the entire capital, it means anyone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards will be required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.
Rishi Sunak has previously told Khan to “think twice” about the scheme, with opposition to it considered the deciding factor in Labour's defeat in the recent Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, one of the new areas ULEZ is set to incorporate.
It was reported this week that Sunak considered an attempt to block the expansion, but this was dropped after lawyers told him it would fail in court.
But Khan, saying the Conservatives have supported clean air zones in 16 cities, claimed in his Sunday Times interview: “I’m doing what the government wants me to do. So this mock anger from the government is pure hypocrisy.
Watch: Sadiq Khan accuses government of 'weaponising air pollution'
“The Tories are trying to weaponise the issue of tackling air pollution, tackling the climate emergency, because they think there is some short-term advantage to doing so. But people aren’t stupid. They’ll see both the reasonable need to take action and that this government was previously in favour of this policy.”
However, support has also drained from Khan’s own Labour colleagues. Leader Sir Keir Starmer said this month that cities across the UK should look at other options for tackling air pollution instead of schemes similar to ULEZ.
On Saturday, demonstrators in Tooting, south London - where Khan lives - called for a delay or stoppage of the scheme.
Car horns hooted in response to the “beep for freedom” banners that were held by members of a cheering and whistling crowd gathered at the junction outside Tooting Broadway station.
Chants of “get Khan out” also rang out among a crowd largely drawn from parts of London and the south who are now set to be affected when the new clean air zone is introduced.
Among the protesters was Pete Huntingford, 57, a DJ and scrap metal dealer from Mitcham, who said: “It will mean I will not be able to go to work in certain areas, or go shopping where I want to, or to take my kids to certain areas.”
The GMB Union has also called on Khan to scrap the ULEZ expansion. London regional organiser Trevlyn McLeod told LBC: “Listen to the people, Mr Khan, listen to the people who are going to suffer, listen to the people who can’t afford now to go to work or never mind put food on the table.
“We all want clean air for our children and generations, but you’ve gone in too far, too deep and it’s going to cost people’s lives and livelihoods.”
To comply with ULEZ standards, petrol cars must generally have been first registered after 2005, while most diesel cars registered after September 2015 are also exempt from the charge.
In response to the expansion, Transport for London (TfL) is running a £160m scheme enabling people or organisations with non-compliant cars to claim grants.
TfL says nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are compliant.
Separate figures obtained by the RAC show more than 690,000 licensed cars in the whole of London are likely to be non-compliant. This does not take into account other types of vehicles or those which enter London from neighbouring counties.