The Telegraph 2024-02-25 16:30:31

Bodyguards for MPs as extremism threat rises

Private security is being deployed to protect MPs amid warnings that the Israel-Hamas conflict is a “generational radicalising moment”, The Telegraph can reveal.

Security personnel working for private firms are guarding constituency surgeries and providing close protection for a growing number of politicians who are assessed to be at risk by the authorities.

One MP who has accepted Parliament-funded protection at constituency meetings warned that “people are underestimating” the threat to politicians from extremists.

Some female MPs are also now using chauffeur-driven cars as part of a move to “close the gap” between protection given to Cabinet ministers as standard and measures for backbenchers now also considered highly vulnerable.

The number of MPs requiring protection is believed to have risen in the wake of the Hamas attacks of Oct 7, with security details assigned under a system first created after the murder of Sir David Amess by an Isis supporter in October 2021.

Because of the scale of the threat since early October, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, is understood to have written to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to seek more funding for the scheme.

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, told The Telegraph: “We’ve been reviewing existing security measures for MPs in the wake of the murder of my colleague and friend Sir David Amess.

“The work we’ve done has led to substantive improvements to existing security measures at MPs’ homes and offices, as well as new security measures such as the deployment of private protection officers.”

On Saturday night, Rishi Sunak warned that Parliament had sent a “very dangerous signal” that “intimidation works” when Sir Lindsay broke with precedent to allow Labour to table a vote during an SNP debate. Mr Sunak said legitimate protests were being “hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism”.

Sir Lindsay apologised for his move last week, saying he had been motivated by a desire to protect MPs. The Telegraph understands he had held talks with Laurence Taylor, the Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, shortly before the debate.

Separately, a senior counter-terror officer who leads the Prevent programme revealed in an exclusive interview that the number of suspected extremists flagged had risen by 13 per cent since Oct 7, with the figures increasing around news of Israeli hostages and pro-Palestine protests.

“We have always seen the impact of world events closer to home, and our concern is that this will create a long-term increase in risk in the UK and beyond,” Maria Lovegrove, Detective Chief Superintendent, told The Telegraph. 

“We are trying to flatten the curve before it becomes a generational radicalising moment.”

Ms Lovegrove said “different communities” were being referred to police, including Islamists and extreme Right-wing groups attempting to “mobilise around a divisive narrative”.

Mr Sunak said: “The events of recent weeks are but the latest in an emerging pattern, which should not be tolerated.

“Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted, and anti-Semitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building.

“And in Parliament this week, a very dangerous signal was sent that this sort of intimidation works. It is toxic for our society and our politics, and is an affront to the liberties and values we hold dear here in Britain.

“Our democracy cannot and must not bend to the threat of violence and intimidation or fall into polarised camps who hate each other. The explosions in prejudice and anti-Semitism since the Hamas terrorist attacks on the Oct 7 are as unacceptable as they are un-British.

“Simply put, anti-Semitism is racism – and speaking as someone who has experienced racism, I know it when I see it.”

Anna Firth, Sir David’s successor as the Conservative MP for Southend West, said too little was being done to tackle extremism in the country at large.

Writing for The Telegraph, she said: “A lot of lovely sentiments have been expressed … but has enough actually been done to tackle the fact that many, many Islamist extremists with bad intentions live and walk among us? No, it hasn’t. We seem afraid.”

The Home Office, police, parliamentary authorities and security services have been intensifying work to ensure security for MPs in recent months, building on procedures triggered by the murder of Sir David.

As well as installing security measures at MPs’ homes and constituency offices, and the deployment of uniformed police officers at key events, private security operatives have been assigned for guard duties and close protection where intelligence suggests there is a significant risk.

Thousands of MPs’ surgeries and hundreds of events have been protected since the scheme began, and that number is rising as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war increase threats towards MPs.

Hundreds of MPs have also been provided with an overhauled package of security training from specialist advisers.

A specialist police operation, codenamed Bridger, was separately established to safeguard politicians after a neo-Nazi murdered the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016. It has held personal security briefings for MPs, while looking at protective measures around Parliament.

Deputy assistant commissioner Taylor said: “We fully recognise and understand the heightened concerns that many MPs and other elected officials across the country have about their safety and security.

“We are committed to ensuring that MPs, their families and their staff can go about their work and lives without feeling unsafe, and we will not tolerate MPs being intimidated.”

On Friday, a teenager was convicted of trying to encourage terror attacks targeting the Government by creating a manual filled with instructions on how to build bombs, guns and evade the police. 

Prosecutors told Manchester Crown Court the teenager “was motivated by a hatred and contempt for the Government.”

Brendan Cox, Ms Cox’s widower, told The Telegraph: “Tensions over the war in Gaza risk undermining community relations and catalysing anti-Semitic and Islamophobic extremism. What we urgently need now is politicians who can bring communities together, bridge divides and marginalise these extremists.”

A vicious political row was sparked by a Commons debate on a Gaza ceasefire on Wednesday, with more than 70 MPs later backing a no-confidence motion in Sir Lindsay.

The Speaker said he “made a wrong decision” because he was trying to protect MPs against repercussions, adding: “The details of the things that have been brought to me are absolutely frightening… I have a duty of care that I will carry out to protect people.”

MI5 continues to assess Islamists as the most significant terror threat to the UK, but they made up only 11 per cent of referrals to Prevent in 2022-23, behind “conflicted ideology”, Right-wing extremists and a group classed as “vulnerability present but no ideology or counter-terrorism risk”.

Ms Lovegrove said the scheme could only “deal with the work as it comes to us”, and that there was “no difference in the way we triage and assess different types of referrals”.

An official review of Prevent argued that it had strayed from its “core mission” to counter Islamism and other ideologies that drive terrorism, and had instead become too focused on ideas of “vulnerability”.

Ms Lovegrove argued the two factors could not be “divorced”, adding: “We now see people that are both vulnerable and dangerous at the same time. More and more, we’re seeing cases where ideology is the last thing to come.”

The chaotic picture is partly being driven by the young age of many people referred to Prevent, which is now seeing children under the age of 10 referred for “ideological intervention”.

Ms Lovegrove said “it would be really naive to not think that there was a risk of very young people being drawn into terrorism, particularly with the way algorithms now chuck content at children”.

Watch: Haley vows to fight on despite humiliating defeat to Trump in her home state

Nikki Haley has vowed to fight on in the Republican primary race despite a humiliating loss to Donald Trump in her home state of South Carolina.

Mr Trump routed Ms Haley, the state’s former governor, by more than 20 points in Saturday’s vote – extending his early lead in Iowa and New Hampshire.

With 99 per cent of the votes counted, Ms Haley has won only three of the 50 available delegates.

The result makes it all but certain that Mr Trump will secure the GOP nomination this summer, and puts Ms Haley’s campaign in a precarious position ahead of the slew of primary votes on March 5.

However, in a speech to supporters in Charleston, Ms Haley said her presidential bid was “never about me or my political future” and pledged to provide an “alternative” to Mr Trump.

As early results suggested she had received the support of around 40 per cent of Republicans in the state, compared with Mr Trump’s 60 per cent, she said:  “I’m an accountant. I know 40 per cent is not 50 per cent.

“But I also know 40 per cent is not some tiny group. There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.”

Voters want a choice, Haley insists

She added that Republican voters had a “right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate, and I have a duty to give them that choice”.

“I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for President,” she said.

“I’m a woman of my word. I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

A defeat in a candidate’s home state is considered embarrassing, with most contenders expecting the support of their own party’s voters and local party grandees.

However, Mr Trump received the backing of both of South Carolina’s senators, Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, and the state’s governor, Henry McMaster.

In a speech shortly after polls closed, the former president thanked his supporters and declined to mention Ms Haley by name as he celebrated his victory.

He instead attacked Joe Biden, who he said he would fire like a contestant on The Apprentice, and declared that this year’s presidential election would be “the most important date perhaps in the history of our country”.

“We have a country that is a failing nation, but we’re not going to have a failing nation very long,” he said.

“We are not going to allow this to happen. We love our country. We love it dearly. We’re going to fight for our country.”

Five straight wins for the Trump juggernaut

The South Carolina result is Mr Trump’s fifth consecutive victory, after wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the US Virgin Islands.

He said he had “set a record” in every state so far, and compared his victories to “the most hits in baseball” or “the most touchdowns in football”.

Ms Haley’s decision to fight on despite her slim odds in the Republican contest drew speculation that she intends to run as an independent candidate in this year’s election, under the “No Labels” campaign banner used by some centrists.

She has previously denied that she would run for president on another ticket than the Republican Party.

A Fox News exit poll from South Carolina suggested Mr Trump had the most support among traditional groups, including voters that describe themselves as “very conservative”, “rural” and “white evangelical”.

However, he also had the support of the majority of women and veteran voters, who have been targeted by Ms Haley.

Nationally, polling averages suggest Mr Trump has the support of around 77 per cent of Republicans, compared with 15 per cent who support Ms Haley.

South Carolina’s primary allocates 50 delegates to the Republican National Convention, which will take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July.

Mr Trump’s campaign has said it believes he will have enough delegates to win the contest in the next two weeks, rendering the rest of the primary race largely irrelevant.

Mr Trump and Ms Haley will now continue their campaigns in the remaining primary states.

Republicans in Michigan, the next state to vote, will cast their ballots on February 27, before sixteen states choose their preferred nominee on “Super Tuesday” on March 5.

“We’re headed to Michigan tomorrow, and we’re headed to the Super Tuesday states throughout all of next week,” Ms Haley said on Saturday.

“We’ll keep fighting for America—and we won’t rest until America wins.”

Adele training ‘like an athlete’ for first tour in seven years

Adele is training “like an athlete” twice a day so she can walk around dozens of extra stages in her first tour for seven years.

The 35-year-old plans to walk five miles a night across every inch of a multi-pronged stage during a series of summer shows in Germany.

About 80,000 people are expected to attend each of the 10 concerts at the bespoke, open-air arena in Munich this August.

The singer-songwriter has ordered concert bosses to create an “intimate” stage set that allows her to walk out into different parts of the crowd in an effort to replicate her Las Vegas shows to a much smaller audience of 4,200.

She said she wanted “to be able to connect with the crowd” and so needed to improve her stamina to move around.

“I was like, build me a stage out in the crowd. And they were like, ‘Well, we can’t get you there unless you walk there on a stage’,” Adele said.

“I’m obviously exaggerating a little bit, but I think I’ll probably get a good four or five miles in a night walking. So I really need to get my stamina up, I’m working out twice a day.

“All I have been doing is that. I’m training to be an athlete because I have some shows in the summer,” she told those attending her concert at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas.

Close to you

She said she was in training because she wanted to be closer to fans, and doing shows in front of such a large audience has always left her feeling “a little bit disassociated” in comparison with smaller venues.

“How is it possible there’s 100,000 people here to see one person? That doesn’t make any sense, and it always felt so far away,” she explained. “This show has absolutely just made me not scared of performing in any capacity anymore. So I’m excited about this show.”

Following the birth of her son, Angelo, now 11, Adele overhauled her lifestyle, which had included sugary cups of tea and cigarettes every day.

She went on to lose seven stone in two years through changes to her diet as well as lifting weights and circuit training, and has reportedly quit drinking, after claiming she was a “borderline alcoholic” in her 20s.

The Grammy Award winner cancelled her initial Las Vegas “residency” in January 2022 just hours before it was due to begin, because it had “no soul”, forcing thousands of fans to change their plans at the last minute.

She described it as the “worst moment of her career” as she delayed her comeback, but also spoke of how she has overcome her serious stage fright.

“For a very long time I was very, very scared of not just the big crowd, just crowds in general,” she said.

‘Anxiety attacks’

Adele had previously said she “would never do festivals” because of the size of the audience, which are similar to the numbers she will play in front of in Munich, and described how stage fright caused her to have “anxiety attacks” on stage for fear she “would not deliver”.

After she finished her last tour in 2017, she admitted she did not know if she would ever tour again.

The Munich shows are due to run from August 2 to August 24. Tickets are still available despite an initial scramble when they first went on sale with 260,000 people queuing for hours.

The cheapest tickets cost a reported £281, while the most expensive, stage-side seats fetched more than £1,000 each.

Tickets are still available for all nights of the show priced at several hundred euros each. Second-hand ticket touts are selling tickets at even higher prices.

Some fans have called the prices of the tickets “criminal” and “vile”, while the costs of hotels in Munich have also soared during the summer, with the German city also set to host Euro 2024 football matches throughout June and July.

Prince Harry ‘on his own’ if I win again, says Donald Trump

Donald Trump has said Prince Harry will be “on his own” if he wins a second term this year as the former president criticised him for an “unforgivable” betrayal of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr Trump said that Joe Biden’s administration had been “too gracious” to the Duke of Sussex since he moved to America in 2020.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington DC on Saturday, Mr Trump told the Express: “I wouldn’t protect him. He betrayed the Queen. That’s unforgivable. He would be on his own if it was down to me.”

On Mr Biden’s approach to the Sussexes, he added: “I think they have been too gracious to him after what he has done.”

Prince Harry’s immigration status has become the subject of legal dispute by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which argues he cannot legally have entered the US because he admitted to taking illegal drugs in his memoir, Spare.

Taking illegal drugs has previously precluded some foreign citizens, including Nigella Lawson, from travelling to the US.

The think tank argued in court on Friday that the US government should reveal Prince Harry’s immigration form, showing whether he declared he had taken the drugs to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In his memoir, the Duke wrote that he had taken cocaine, marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms in his youth.

He said that while cocaine “didn’t do anything for me”, marijuana “really did help me”.

After taking psychedelic mushrooms, he said he had believed a bathroom bin had grown a head and was staring at him.

A lawyer for the Biden administration, disputing the challenge, told the court in Washington that the Prince’s admission of taking the drugs in his book was not “proof” it had taken place.

The administration said his account could have been embellished to “sell books,” adding “saying something in a book doesn’t necessarily make it true”.

The Heritage Foundation has accused the US government of covering up the records, which it says are of “immense public interest”, to protect Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, who is a US citizen.

Mr Trump has previously expressed strong support for the late Queen and has been critical of the Duke and Duchess.

He has described Prince Harry’s memoir as “horrible” and said he was “surprised” that the pair were invited to King Charles’s Coronation last year.

In response to the late Queen’s death in 2022, Mr Trump said: “What a grand and beautiful lady she was. There was nobody like her!”

Speaking in a television interview earlier this month, Prince Harry said he had not yet applied for US citizenship.

“The thought has crossed my mind but is not a high priority right now,” he said.

BBC should be proud to be progressive, director general told staff

The BBC’s director general told staff the corporation should be proud to be progressive, The Telegraph can reveal.

In a leaked recording, Tim Davie said the BBC walked a “joyous tightrope of the culture wars”, and said “being progressive” was something staff “should be proud of”.

He made the remarks during an online question and answer session with employees, in which he said the corporation was “fair and balanced technically in terms of impartiality” in its coverage and did not have “party political bias”.

However, critics of the BBC reacted angrily to Mr Davie’s comments, which came to light after The Telegraph acquired footage of the meeting in January 2021, claiming they amounted to a political position.

In the recording, a BBC employee told Mr Davie there was “a real perception out there that we haven’t done enough to tackle impartiality, that we need to ‘de-woke’,” and asked him: “How would you respond to that?”.

Mr Davie said: “We do a reasonably good job of walking along the joyous tightrope of the culture wars where, being progressive, diverse, doing the things we should be proud of, is not woke. But meanwhile, we’ve got to make sure that we are clearly representing views from across the board.”

Responding to The Telegraph’s findings, a BBC spokesman said the director general meant progressive “in relation to areas like market-led technological change” and that “any other interpretation is wrong”.

Dame Priti Patel, a former Home Secretary, told The Telegraph: “The BBC once again have serious questions to answer over their political bias and culture.

“The public expects this taxpayer-funded broadcaster to be impartial, balanced and fair. But these latest revelations show they are obsessed with promoting a liberal metropolitan elitist agenda that most of the country disapproves of.”

Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said: “Tim Davie’s comments confirm how deeply embedded Left-wing ideology is at the BBC. These comments prove the BBC is not fit for purpose and should be immediately defunded.”

Robin Aitken, a former senior BBC journalist, said: “A progressive groupthink dominates the BBC, including its director general. BBC people simply don’t seem to understand that not everyone shares their opinions and that to social conservatives the consensus BBC view on social issues and concepts like ‘diversity’ is itself controversial.

“For Tim Davie to say the BBC is proud to be progressive is to take a firm, and controversial, political position. It suggests he has a very poor understanding of what true impartiality looks like. If the BBC is, as he claims, a ‘progressive’ organisation, that inevitably excludes those, like me, who don’t identify as progressive.”

Mr Aitken said that “directly contradicts the BBC’s core mission, which is to accurately reflect all shades of opinion, not merely those of progressives”, adding: “Inadvertently, the director general has highlighted the scale of the problem he faces if he intends real reform at the corporation.”

Under its Royal Charter, submitted to Parliament in 2016 and subject to an updated framework agreement in 2022, the BBC is committed to “reflecting a wide range of subject matter and perspectives across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted.”

A BBC source told The Telegraph: “To respond to a question about how the BBC can rid itself of ‘wokeism’ by saying we should be proud of being progressive and diverse is revealing. Tim doesn’t understand that these viewpoints are contested and not shared by many of our viewers.

“Unfortunately, this politically naive attitude is widespread across the BBC.”

During the 2021 meeting, Mr Davie also said: “There are areas of the BBC that are doing brilliantly, but there are areas we can improve and we are in danger, at points, of groupthink – I am, everyone else – unconscious bias, call it what you will. We need to free ourselves from that and really be representing the audience.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The director general has certainly talked about steering the BBC through the challenges of the culture wars.

“When talking about being progressive, the very point is that we need to evolve and keep relevant in relation to areas like market led technological change and this should not be confused with the BBC taking a political or cultural position, which is clearly not our role. Any other interpretation is wrong.”

The development comes after a recent poll that found more than half of working class viewers who think the quality of BBC news has declined blamed “wokeness” for that, according to Public First, a research agency.

James Frayne, a founding partner of Public First, said: “By four to one, leave voters agree the BBC is too woke, and around 40 per cent of Leavers say the quality of BBC news has gone down in the last decade – primarily blaming apparent ‘wokeness’ for this.

“If Tim Davie’s strategy holds, their leak of working-class Leave voting support will resemble a dam burst. While the BBC doesn’t have a universal problem, they have a developing serious problem with working-class Leave voters who appear to be turning off the BBC in droves.”

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, recently accused the corporation of bias, citing its reporting on an attack on a hospital in Gaza last year as an example.

Danny Cohen, a former director of BBC Television, wrote in The Telegraph last month that the BBC “is being undermined in its duty to impartiality by institutional bias, anti-Israel sentiment”.

Army at risk of becoming ‘static land force’, chief tells generals

The head of the British Army has suggested that under-funding has left it in danger of becoming a “domestically-focused land force”, The Telegraph can reveal.

In a leaked letter, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, suggested the Army’s ability to mount overseas campaigns was in jeopardy and the force’s “strategic resilience” was at risk.

Gen Sir Patrick also said he and senior officials “struggled to fully land our concerns” with the Ministry of Defence.

In the letter to former generals, with whom the Chief of the General Staff regularly consults, he wrote: “For some time, we have asset-sweated the military, compounded by a mismatch between ambition and resource that has been robustly addressed by both National Audit Office and Defence Select Committee reporting. 

“Our strategic resilience is at risk, and we might inadvertently reduce ourselves to a smaller, static and domestically-focused land force. I am not sure that this is either the Army the nation needs, or the one that policymakers want.”

It comes as the UK and US on Saturday night launched a fresh wave of  strikes against Houthi militants in Yemen in a bid to “disrupt and degrade” the Iran-backed militia’s capabilities.

The airborne attacks struck 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen linked to underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defence systems and a helicopter.

The Army chief’s comments follow his self-described “controversial speech” in January when he suggested Britain should “train and equip” a citizen army to prepare for a future land conflict.

Maj Gen Julian Thompson, who commanded Three Commando Brigade in the Falklands, said: “He is right to warn that we might soon be unable to fulfil our expeditionary or Nato commitments. That is truly shocking.”

Col Richard Kemp, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland, backed Gen Sir Patrick’s warning, saying that “our ability to conduct overseas operations is at risk” because of cuts.

“It is very worrying that given the multiple threats from China, Russia and Iran, our Armed Forces have been gutted of the resources required to fight effectively and to support our allies abroad,” he said.

Gen Sir Patrick’s letter also puts him at odds with Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, on “wokeism” in the military, and the MoD’s new housing initiative.

Under the initiative, personnel will be allocated houses according to family size rather than rank. It has been met with outrage by soldiers’ wives.

The letter from Gen Sir Patrick said there was “much to celebrate in the NAO [New Accommodation Offer], but I am concerned about some of the likely consequences”.

He described the policy as “a net positive for our people” but conceded that “there is an uncomfortable opportunity cost and for the most part, this will be felt by the Officer Corps”.

The letter continued: “This does present risk to the social fabric of the Army, and it diminishes the strength of the offer we provide to young officers, in particular. I and ECAB [executive committee of the Army board] feel it is as vital to look after our leadership as our soldiers, but we are not being heard.”

A petition set up by Army wives calling for a review of the policy has gained 16,000 signatures, warning that retention rates in the forces will continue to suffer if the policy goes through unchanged.

Between October 2022 and October 2023, the regular Armed Forces saw an influx of 10,470 new recruits, while 16,260 departed. Notably, the last quarter witnessed a record-breaking 792 Army officers opting for early departure.

Gen Thompson said: “Gen Sir Patrick is right to object to the abolition of housing allocation by rank because, if it is pushed through, he’ll lose his mid-rank commanders in short order; but he weakly goes along with it. Both the threat to strategic resilience and the mortal threat to morale from the woke housing policy changes are resigning matters.”

Gen Sir Patrick also defended the Army’s diversity policies following criticism from senior ex-servicemen that they were “woke” and affecting the forces’ operational effectiveness. He endorsed lowering security clearance checks for overseas recruits to boost diversity, a policy that Mr Shapps ruled out after it was disclosed by The Telegraph.

The general’s letter referred to reports around “wokeism”, and said: “I make no apology for seeking an Army that reflects the society we serve and creates an environment that best nourishes its moral component.”

However Col Kemp said it was “wrong to say his woke policies are popular with the majority of soldiers”, adding: “I regularly speak with serving personnel who are concerned with the adoption of radical policies on gender and race in the military, which are only accelerating our recruitment and retention problems.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Our Armed Forces are always ready to protect and defend the nation, with more than £50billion being spent on defence this year alone.

“The Army is currently undergoing its largest transformation in 20 years, creating a more integrated, agile, and lethal force, fit to face up to current and future threats. Alongside this, £41 billion is being invested in equipment and support projects over the next 10 years to ensure the Army has the highest quality equipment for the battlefield.”

Shoppers face £1bn ‘toaster tax’ under plans for new set of net zero rules

Shoppers face a £1 billion “toaster tax” under plans for a new set of net zero rules, retailers and Conservative MPs have warned.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has unveiled plans to require larger shops to “take back” used electrical items such as toasters for recycling, even if the items were bought elsewhere.

The plans would also see online and high street retailers required to provide a “free of charge collection on delivery service” under which they would have to take away a customer’s old appliance, such as a washing machine, television or fridge, if they were delivering a new one.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, told The Telegraph that the new requirements could cost firms “£1 billion or more” per year – a figure that would be passed on to consumers via higher prices.

The Government insists the measures are needed to avoid millions of household electrical items ending up in landfill each year.

Plans are ‘awful’

The plans threaten to reignite Tory rows over burdensome net zero regulations, which the Prime Minister promised to eschew in favour of a “pragmatic and proportionate” approach to decarbonising that would avoid undue pressures on households and businesses.

David Jones, the Conservative MP and former Brexit minister, described the plans as “awful” and akin to a stealth “toaster tax”.

An official analysis accompanying the Government’s consultation document admits that the cost of the scheme, while paid upfront by retailers, “could then be passed back to consumers through higher prices” – despite Downing Street insisting that its current focus is easing the “pressures” of the high cost of living.

“It will become an invisible charge that everybody pays,” Ms Dickinson said, adding that, contrary to Mr Sunak’s pledge to take a “pragmatic and proportionate” approach to net zero, “It doesn’t feel pragmatic.”

The Government’s consultation document setting out the planned changes – which would be rolled out from 2026 – states they are part of a series of measures that will “influence the transition of the whole economy towards net zero”.

Ms Dickinson said: “We think [the bill would be] in the hundreds of millions of pounds plus, and could be £1 billion or more.” The cost would be borne by retailers rather than funded by revenue already raised via business rates and council tax.

Mr Jones added: “This is exactly the sort of burdensome regulation that we thought we were getting rid of when we left the EU.

“This is an extraordinary imposition on businesses and the Government should have nothing to do with it. I think it is completely unreasonable that they should expect retailers to do that.”

‘Stores may stop selling electrical goods’

The most contentious proposal is for “retailers with a turnover of over £100k of electrical sales each year to provide free takeback of unwanted electrical equipment in store without the need to purchase a new item”.

Ms Dickinson said some shops might simply stop selling electrical items in order to avoid being bound by the requirements.

If a large chemist sold electrical items such as hair tongs and hairdryers then they would be obliged to accept equivalent items bought at other shops.

Ms Dickinson said: “If retailers have to take in more than they sell, some who only sell small volumes may stop selling them at all and larger supermarkets may also reduce the ranges offered, both reducing choice for customers.”

Richer Sounds, the television and hi-fi retailer, warned that its 50 shops were already “packed to the rafters” with stock.

Julie Abraham, the firm’s chief executive, told The Telegraph that the chain did not have “huge empty rooms for storing every broken TV, radio, and speaker that might be left in our stores under the proposed changes to the electrical recycling rules”.

She added: “This means we would have to increase collections from our stores in order to take away these items, increasing our carbon footprint and creating new costs to our business, the environment and ultimately our customers.”

‘We can’t do it for free’

The plans are also opposed by Currys, with Alex Baldock, the chief executive, saying the firm’s existing recycling policy meant that it accounted “for nearly half of all retail technology recycling in the UK”. 

Speaking earlier this month, Mr Baldock warned that retailers were already only making £3 on every £100, adding: “We can’t do it for free.”

The row comes after The Telegraph revealed last week that ministers had angered Tory MPs by quietly introducing legal changes that amounted to a significant expansion of New Labour’s Equality Act, which Mr Sunak once claimed had “allowed every kind of woke nonsense to permeate public life” and “must stop”.

The latest revelations centre on a consultation underway over plans to require the “producers and distributors” of electrical items to fund “the full net cost” of recycling or otherwise discarding used electronic products, to avoid them ending up in landfill.

Ms Dickinson said the cost shouldered by retailers would include the “opportunity costs” of lost space that would otherwise be used for storing, displaying and delivering stock.

Currently, retailers with a turnover of more than £100,000 of electrical sales have to take back unwanted electrical equipment when a customer purchases a new equivalent version of the same item. The service is rarely advertised because of the additional costs that shops would face if it became a popular alternative to disposing of old items at local authority recycling sites.

‘Plans will make it easier to recycle’

The Government wants to expand the existing rules so that the obligation on shops would no longer “be linked to the purchase of a new item”. Shops would also be legally required to tell customers about their obligation to accept old electrical items.

The consultation document suggested that one option is for the “takeback” service to be restricted to “equivalent” products to the items that each shop sells. That option “would avoid a scenario, for example, where a specialist electrical store only selling lighting products would be required to take back a toaster”, the consultation document states.

Ms Dickinson criticised the Government for failing to engage more extensively with businesses over the proposals before they were published. The consultation closes on March 7.

She said: “The Government has dithered for years and now announced proposals which are flawed as they chose not to collaborate with the retailers – who are vital to the success of increasing electrical recycling.”

Steve Pendleton, the services director at Currys, said: “At Currys we already operate a scaled and successful solution that meets the aims of our customers, the planet and is sustainable for our business. We strongly urge the Government to focus on harnessing the innovative and competitive nature of the whole retail industry in support of everyone achieving the same position.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Every year millions of household electricals across the UK end up in the bin rather than being correctly recycled or reused. These proposals will make it easier for people to recycle electricals and drive the much-needed move to a more circular economy.

“We have been consulting widely on these plans, including with industry leaders and we will fully consider all consultation responses before setting out next steps.” Some 155,000 tonnes of smaller household electrical items, including cables, toasters and kettles are thrown away in conventional bins each year.