The environment secretary Michael Gove’s plan to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 risks being a “car crash” for jobs and skills, unless it is part of an industrial strategy that secures a “just transition” to electric vehicles, according to the UK’s largest union Unite.

Responding to the launch of the government’s clean air strategy, Unite national officer Des Quinn said: “The government must listen to the UK’s car industry and its workers to avoid Michael Gove’s ambition of phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 becoming a car crash for jobs and skills.

“The government’s clean air strategy needs to be developed ‘hand in glove’ with an industrial strategy that ensures a just transition from combustion engines to electric and secures our automotive industry’s world leading status for years to come.

“The government must step up and remove the barriers to UK investment and the mass take-up of electric vehicles with massive investment in infrastructure and support for re-skilling and retooling to ensure no worker is left behind.

“Unite members already make some of the cleanest and most efficient engines in the world. They want to ensure that the UK’s automotive sector is at the forefront of electric vehicle technology, but need government ministers to stop shooting from the hip and invest, so that they can hold their own against the likes of Germany, the United States, southern Asia and China.”