MICHAEL Gove has said protecting the environment should not be a “religious crusade” as his fellow Tories demanded a slowdown in green policies after the Uxbridge byelection.

The Levelling Up Secretary also said he wanted to “relax” a 2028 deadline for private sector landlords south of the border to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.

However one Tory peer said it would be “idiotic”, “immoral” and politically suicidal” to water down green pledges given growing voter concern over the climate crisis.

Rishi Sunak is being urged to drop “unpopular, expensive green policies” ahead of the general election after a backlash against one totemic measure last week.

Despite being crushed in byelections in Yorkshire and Somerset on Thursday, the Tories held on in Uxbridge & South Ruislip near London by campaigning against a new car charge.

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Candidate Steve Tuckwell succeeded Boris Johnson as the seat’s MP after railing against the expansion of an anti-pollution measure by London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

The ultra-low emission zone, or Ulez, is due to extend from the centre of the capital to its commuter fringes next month, with older, polluting cars liable to a charge of £12.50 a day.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged Ulez had scuppered Labour’s chances in the seat, and told Mr Khan to “reflect” on the policy, which may now be revisited.

Tory strategists seized on the result as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak night that saw the Tories more than 20 points behind their rivals across all three byelections.

Mr Gove told the Sunday Telegraph he wanted “thoughtful environmentalism” rather than “treating the cause of the environment as a religious crusade”.

He said: “My own strong view is that we’re asking too much too quickly.”

Echoing the comments, Tory local government minister Leww Rowley said some environmental campaigners had an “evangelical” approach.

He told Times Radio: “I think what Michael was saying was that there is a group of people in politics and a group of campaigning organisations that do treat it like a religion, they do treat it with an evangelical fervour, which I’m not sure is the right thing to do.

“You can’t have a reasonable debate with people. People shouting and screaming like Just Stop Oil do and saying things which are just fundamentally not correct is not actually going to get us any further down this journey or any quicker.”

“What I think Uxbridge shows is that we have to do this in a careful manner, a manner over the course of several decades – and we have to take people with us.

“And that is something that the Labour Party failed to do in making their case in Uxbridge, and what the Government wants to be very careful about doing is making sure that people come with us on this journey.”

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Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said the lesson from the Tory win in Uxbridge was that “what works is getting rid of unpopular, expensive green policies”.

He told GB News: “I think Uxbridge is really interesting and important because if we get rid of things like Ulez, which have popped up across the country, and we show we are on the side of the British voter - we stop burdening them with extra charges, extra regulations, extra interference in their lives - then I think there is a real chance.”

He said by-elections “don’t necessarily predict what is going to happen in a general election” but let governments “think about what they are doing and see what works and what doesn’t”.

He said: “What works is getting rid of unpopular, expensive green policies, and that is a real opportunity for us. We’ve got an energy Bill before Parliament at the moment which will pile endless costs on British consumers and businesses. We don’t want to do that.”

However former Tory minister Lord Goldsmith or Richmond Park told the Observer that voters would punish anny party which reneged on its green promises.

He said: “Byelection results can be interpreted in countless ways, and it is the nature of politicians and political commentators to wedge their own prejudices into the outcomes

“But to use these recent results to advocate abandonment of the UK’s previous environmental leadership is cynical and idiotic.

“It would also be politically suicidal, given the very deep and wide support for action on the environment that exists right across the electorate. And it is immoral, given that both government and opposition acknowledge the gravity of the crisis we face.

“So it’s hard to believe there really are people at the top of either of the main parties calling for abandonment of green policies, but if there are, I can only hope they are hammered by the electorate when the time comes.”