The highly anticipated Road To Zero strategy will reportedly be published this week. Designed to eliminate pollution from Britain’s roads, it is expected to outline how the government plans to decarbonise road transport.

Last July Michael Gove announced the plan would mean an outright ban on petrol and diesel cars. The wording of the announcement at that time was that those cars “will be banned.”

But the Road To Zero report is far softer in its rhetoric and refers to the ban as “a mission”, according Whitehall sources quoted by the Financial Times.

The new, weaker language said to be being considered by ministers suggests the government’s “mission” is to put the UK at the forefront of design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles and ensure the elimination of polluting cars from the streets by 2040.

This has sparked outrage from environmental groups, who are describing it as “a u-turn”.

But there will also be a new target for 50 per cent of vehicles on Britain’s roads to be “ultra-low-emission vehicles” by 2030, with a review of progress in 2025, which is arguably more ambitious.

John Sauven, chief executive of Greenpeace, said: “A ban on new petrol and diesel from 2040 is already weak by international standards; many countries are bringing in bans from 2030. We should follow suit not lag behind.”

He added the move would undermine the government’s efforts to establish the UK as a world leader in electric vehicles.

In response, a government spokesperson said the plan was still to end the sale of conventional diesel and petrol cars by 2040 adding: “Our commitment is not being watered down.”

Writing on Twitter, green taxi service Green Tomato Cars, which recently hosted transport secretary Chris Grayling at the unveiling of its latest hydrogen fuel cell cars, expressed shock at the reports.

@greentomatocars: “Doesn’t make sense. Chris Grayling proudly drove one of our #zeroemissions @ToyotaGB Mirai just a few weeks ago. Clarification needed that plans for diesel and petrol ban by 2040 not now watered down.”

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