Rishi Sunak looks set for another battle with his own MPs as a growing number of rebels join Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in trying to force him to drop a ban on new onshore wind farms.
Former party chairman Sir Jake Berry added his name on Sunday to the list of MPs backing the bid, while Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is also understood to want an end to the ban.
Mr Sunak scrapped a move by predecessor Liz Truss to relax the rules around onshore wind, saying he wants to prioritise building turbines offshore instead.
Simon Clarke, a cabinet minister under Ms Truss, has tabled an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill demanding the current moratorium on new onshore wind farm developments be lifted.
Former prime ministers Ms Truss and Mr Johnson are among more than 20 Conservatives supporting the pro-wind legislation, as well as Alok Sharma, who was the president of the COP26 climate summit.
Elliot Colburn and former ministers Robert Courts and Kevin Foster will also add their signatures to the amendment, the PA news agency has been told.
Along with private backers, a rebel source said 30 Tories have got behind Mr Clarke’s bid – coming close to eroding Mr Sunak’s working majority of 69 votes if other opposition groups join Labour in voting for the ban to be overturned.
Sir Jake said Mr Gove’s divergent opinion “spells real danger for my government”, suggesting it is a “first crack in the wall” of discipline for Mr Sunak.
“Boris Johnson famously used to call wind turbines the white satanic mills of the North of England when they were building them all over my constituency,” he told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.
“He’s changed his mind on them; I to a large extent have changed my mind, and I’m going to be supporting Simon Clarke.”
The former minister, who was awarded a knighthood by Mr Johnson, argued that soaring energy bills are the key reason to invest more in renewables.
Mr Johnson did not seek to overturn the effective moratorium on new onshore wind projects, in place since 2015, during his time in Number 10.
Demands for a re-think on the policy have increased since Russia invaded Ukraine, but other Tories oppose wind farms, with cabinet minister Grant Shapps previously branding them “eyesores”.
Mr Gove, who as levelling up secretary is in charge of planning policy, has previously spoken of the need for more onshore wind power.
A source close to him said: “We will work constructively with colleagues as we are doing with all amendments.”
Labour said it is planning to back the Clarke amendment to pile the pressure on Mr Sunak, even though the party believes it “swaps the ban for what is still a highly restrictive planning regime on onshore wind”.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “Onshore wind is the cheapest, cleanest energy we have. The Tories’ ban has kept bills high and damaged our energy security. Rishi Sunak’s weakness means he’s having to be dragged to scrap it by his backbenches. He should swallow his pride and U-turn now.”
The rebellion spells yet more trouble for Mr Sunak and the Conservative Party.
This week, the prime minister was forced to pull a vote on the legislation that would set a target of building 300,000 homes per year when around 50 Tory MPs threatened to revolt.
Writing in the Sunday Times, senior Tory MP Sajid Javid attacked the rebels, saying: “Tearing down the existing planning system and failing to build anything credible to replace it would be a colossal failure of political leadership.”
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak is seeing a steady stream of Conservative MPs – many of whom are relatively young and were thought to have bright careers ahead – announce their exit plans.
His net zero tsar, Chris Skidmore, became the ninth to say they will not contest the next election, following a move by levelling up minister Dehenna Davison.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted they are setting out their positions now because Tories have been given until 5 December to make a decision due to the review into constituency boundaries.
“You are going to see those all bunched together so I don’t think there’s anything particularly to write home about that.”
The departures come amid mounting concerns over the party’s performance in opinion polls.
An Ipsos poll conducted earlier this week revealed how the Conservative’s popularity had plunged to 26%, its lowest score for 15 years.
On dire polling the Tories are struggling to bounce back from, Mr Harper said: “If we are being realistic about it, we are not going to turn things around overnight.”