Meat taxes, 15-minute cities, and asylum seekers: Fact-checking the U.K.’s Conservative Party conference

Meat taxes, 15-minute cities, and asylum seekers: Fact-checking the U.K.’s Conservative Party conference

By: pallavi sethi&
sam doak&
October 6 2023

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Meat taxes, 15-minute cities, and asylum seekers: Fact-checking the U.K.’s Conservative Party conference

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks on stage at Britain's Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester, October 4, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The U.K.'s Conservative Party held its annual conference on October 1 - 4 in Manchester, England. Across four days, ministers, MPs, and party members pitched their visions for the future of their party and the country it currently governs. A number of false and misleading claims were made during the conference. From taxes on meat to voting rights for EU citizens, Logically Facts reviewed eye-catching and impactful statements.

No evidence Labour is “relaxed” about taxing meat


On Monday, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, stated, “It’s no wonder Labour seems so relaxed about taxing meat.”

The suggestion that the Labour Party is open to a meat tax is likely inspired by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that this was one of the ‘heavy-handed’ environmental interventions his government is committed to stopping. However, such a policy was not being pursued by either the Conservative government or their political rivals.

Logically Facts was unable to find a single source that corroborated claims about the Labour party’s plans to introduce a meat tax or consider it. Labour’s draft policy platform, which is likely to shape the party’s manifesto, contains no mention of a tax on meat. According to the BBC, when asked about any plans to advocate for or introduce a tax on meat products, the Labour Party replied, “Taxing meat is not Labour policy.”

The U.K.’s path to Net Zero by 2050 is not certain 


In his closing speech, Rishi Sunak assured attendees that "…we will still meet our domestic targets and we will still get to Net Zero by 2050."

However, before Sunak announced recent changes to the U.K.’s Net Zero strategy, there had already been concerns about the country’s trajectory to meet its future targets. The Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent public body legally mandated to oversee the government's Net Zero progress, published its assessment report on the U.K.’s Net Zero strategy in June 2023 and expressed low confidence in the country’s ability to meet the goals.

 Further, the Prime Minister's recent decisions – delaying the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles until 2035 and shelving the gas boiler phase-out deadline – do not align with the CCC’s recommendation to proceed “as swiftly as possible towards delivery.”

The CCC has strongly advocated using heat pumps over traditional gas boilers in residential homes. Figures from the 2023 CCC report show that while 2022 saw 72,000 pumps installed in homes, the overall count remained significantly below CCC’s projected trajectory, which was set at 130,000 for 2022. 

Keir Starmer is not pursuing proportional representation

On Monday, Peter Booth, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Board, gave a speech outlining the threats posed by Labour to the U.K.’s constitutional arrangements and claiming that Labour leader Keir Starmer “...wants us to accept European laws, with a little added dose of Blair and Brownism. With votes for European Union citizens, votes at sixteen, and proportional representation all thrown in.”

Starmer has previously expressed support for extending the vote to EU nationals and stated that the party was “considering” such a measure alongside votes for sixteen-year-olds, but there was no mention of EU votes in recent draft policy documents. On the topic of proportional representation, a spokesperson for Starmer stated in April that the Labour leader has a “longstanding view against proportional representation.” 

While the Labour Party has backed proportional representation in the past, under currently announced plans, the party is not committed to pursuing such reforms.

Labour plans do not entail accepting 100,000 asylum seekers from Europe 

On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak claimed, "Labour's plan is to cook up some deal with the EU which could see us accepting around 100,000 of Europe's asylum seekers.” 

In September, Labour announced it would seek to negotiate a “returns agreement” with the European Union, should it win power in a general election. Since then, Conservative critics have claimed that this would entail the U.K. accepting 100,000 of those who seek asylum in Europe.

This figure appears to be based on the notion that signing a returns agreement with the EU would necessarily entail accepting a share of asylum seekers from the continent proportional to the U.K.’s population size. While EU member states were recently negotiating a means to relocate 30,000 claimants per year within the bloc according to a range of criteria, including population size, the U.K. is not party to this agreement. 

15-minute cities are not a “sinister” plan to control people’s movements 

On Monday, Mark Harper, the Secretary of State for Transport, delivered a speech in which he made misleading accusations against local councils implementing 15-minute cities in the U.K. While Harper voiced support for "traditional town planning" of "making sure people can walk or cycle to the shops or school," he opposed what he described as the "misuse of so-called 15-minute cities." Harper expressed that "what is sinister, and what we shouldn't tolerate, is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they can ration who uses the roads and when, and that they police it all with CCTV." 

During the week of the conference, Andrew Bowie MP appeared on BBC Radio 4 stating that “we do not want local authorities dictating to people that they must choose to access those services within 15 minutes of their house.” These claims were also fact-checked by the Press and Journal, and widely criticized for promoting a conspiracy theory from “online forums.”

Previously, in February 2023, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher falsely claimed during a House of Commons speech that 15-minute cities would “take away personal freedoms.” 

15-minute cities are polycentric neighborhoods that aim to offer essential services such as healthcare, parks, and public transport no more than a quarter-hour walk from home. More importantly, the concept does not impose a restriction of any kind nor grants councils the authority to dictate the frequency of a person's outings or driving habits. 

The Labour Party has not pledged to end benefit sanctions


Speaking at the conference, U.K. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced plans to impose stricter benefit sanctions, stating, "It isn't fair that someone who refuses to look seriously for a job gets the same as someone trying their best." 

He also critiqued the Labour Party's decision to end restrictions on benefits, suggesting that their past governance led to unfavorable outcomes. "Labour have pledged to end sanctions. Have they learned nothing? When they left office, we had more children in workless households than nearly anywhere in Europe. Since then, those households are down by a million." 

The Labour Party intends to make the welfare system less punitive by incentivizing people to work. However, speaking at the Centre for Social Justice in January 2023, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth confirmed that a conditionality regime will still exist under a Labour government. This means that people who receive benefits will still be expected to meet certain conditions, such as looking for work or attending appointments. 

Under the U.K.-Rwandan asylum partnership, asylum seekers cannot return to the U.K.

In an interview with Guardian columnist Owen Jones, Conservative Party member Lord Eric Pickles showed uncertainty regarding the U.K.'s Rwanda Asylum Plan. When asked about the specifics of the scheme, Lord Pickles stated a "possibility" of asylum seekers returning to the U.K. following application processing in Rwanda. Jones countered, emphasizing that individuals sent to Rwanda are "permanently deported," to which Lord Pickles responded, "no one's gone yet."

Although Lord Pickles accurately notes that asylum seekers have yet to be deported to Rwanda, his suggestion of a potential return to the U.K. is incorrect. 

In 2022, under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the U.K. government signed an asylum partnership arrangement with Rwanda. The agreement states that asylum seekers arriving in the U.K. without authorization, such as by crossing the channel in a small boat, may be sent to Rwanda for asylum claim processing. Successful claims, per Rwanda's immigration rules, could result in refugee status in Rwanda. The Rwanda government also holds the authority to deport individuals to either their home country or a safe third country. However, once asylum seekers are en route to Rwanda, they cannot return to the U.K. 

In 2022, the High Court of England and Wales ruled that the agreement was lawful. However, this decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in June 2023, citing that Rwanda is an unsafe country for refugees. The U.K. government plans to challenge the ruling.

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