A former energy minister has said he will quit as a Conservative MP over new legislation “that promotes the production of new oil and gas”.
Chris Skidmore has said he will resign when parliament returns next week over the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.
The senior Tory had already announced his intention to stand down at the General Election, but bringing this forward will trigger a by-election in his Kingswood constituency in Gloucestershire.
That seat is being abolished at the election in constituency boundary changes, meaning whoever takes his place could be an MP only for a matter of months, with Rishi Sunak expected to go to the polls in the second half of this year.
Announcing his decision on social media, Mr Skidmore said: “The bill would in effect allow more frequent new oil and gas licences and the increased production of new fossil fuels in the North Sea.
“I can no longer stand by. The climate crisis that we face is too important to politicise or to ignore.”
The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will allow oil and gas companies to bid for new licences to drill for fossil fuels every year.
The government argues it is important for domestic energy production but it has been widely criticised by climate groups.
Mr Skidmore, who has been critical of his party’s green record before, warned MPs who vote for the legislation that the future will judge them “harshly”.
He said: “It is a tragedy that the UK has been allowed to lose its climate leadership, at a time when our businesses, industries, universities and civil society organisations are providing first-class leadership and expertise to so many across the world, inspiring change for the better.
“I cannot vote for the bill next week. The future will judge harshly those that do.
“At a time when we should be committing to more climate action, we simply do not have any more time to waste promoting the future production of fossil fuels that is the ultimate cause of the environmental crisis that we are facing.”
Mr Skidmore said he would resign the Conservative whip to make him an independent and quit as an MP “as soon as possible”.
He confirmed to the PA news agency that he would quit “next week when Parliament is back”, with the Commons still on its Christmas recess until Monday.
Mr Skidmore has been an MP since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. He has been a leading voice in the Tory party on climate issues and as energy minister under Boris Johnson, led the government’s review into Net Zero.
He has held Kingswood since 2010, beating second-placed Labour by 11,220 votes at the last general election.
That margin is far smaller than in the last two by-election upsets Labour handed to the Tories, when a 24,664 vote majority was overturned in Mid Bedfordshire and 19,634 in Tamworth.
Mr Sunak already faces having to defend Wellingborough after voters ousted scandal-hit Peter Bone.
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, said: “Rishi Sunak is too weak to lead a party too divided to be led and working people are left paying the price. The Tories have failed. Only this changed Labour Party can be trusted to get Britain’s future back.”
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said: “This is an embarrassing mess for Rishi Sunak. By delaying the election he has left the country to live with more Conservative chaos.
“The public simply don’t trust the Conservatives on the environment. Chris Skidmore has confirmed that uncomfortable truth for Rishi Sunak.”