Dark Money Investigations

Revealed: Climate change denier makes big donations to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Tory hopefuls under fire for accepting cash from company linked to major ‘climate science denial’ group. Johnson has yet to declare the funding, ‘raising questions about who else is bankrolling him’.

Peter Geoghegan
Peter Geoghegan
12 June 2019
Day 2 - Paralympic Torch Relay (left to right) Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron during the lighting of the Paralympic Torch Relay Cauldron in Trafalgar Sq
Hunt, Johnson and Cameron
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Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

A prominent climate change sceptic’s company has donated £25,000 each to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaigns, openDemocracy has discovered.

Johnson and Hunt are widely seen as favourites to emerge as the final two contenders once Tory MPs begin voting on a successor to Theresa May on Thursday. Both candidates have declared over £100,000 in donations in recent weeks.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s largest donation was £25,000 on May 22 from First Corporate Shipping, according to the register of MPs’ interests. First Corporate Shipping is the trading name of Bristol Port, which is co-owned by Tory donors Terence Mordaunt and Sir David Ord.

Mordaunt is a director of the Global Warming Policy Forum, the advocacy arm of the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation. The group has been accused of “giving a platform to fringe climate science deniers” and getting “credibility within the political world through its high-profile Westminster connections.”

Boris Johnson also received £25,000 from the Bristol Port owners ‘“at the same time” as Hunt, Mordaunt told openDemocracy. The Tory front-runner, who launched his leadership bid today, has yet to record the donation on his register of interests. He has until later this month to do so.

Leading environmental campaigners from Greenpeace UK criticised Johnson and Hunt for being “bankrolled by a director of Britain’s leading climate denial group.”

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry said that the fact that Hunt had declared the donation and Johnson had not yet done so also “raises the question about who else is funding Boris Johnson that we don’t know about.”

Tory climate change denial

The Global Warming Policy Foundation was set up by former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson, based at 55 Tufton Street, the same address as a number of think tanks who do not declare their funders. In 2014, the lobbying group the Global Warming Policy Forum was spun out, after the Charity Commission ruled that the foundation had breached rules on impartiality.

Mordaunt told openDemocracy that the forum was not involved in climate change “denial” but that “our knowledge of global warming is very imperfect and that if it is happening, it is happening far slower than most experts and climate models have predicted.”

The United Nations describes climate change as “the defining issue of our time”. But a number of Tory leadership hopefuls have previously questioned global warming.

Boris Johnson has described to concerns about climate change as a “primitive fear” that is “without foundation.” As health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the "ageing population" poses a challenge "as serious as global warming"

Michael Gove, another prominent Tory leadership candidate, has praised reports published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. As education secretary, a spokesperson for Gove dismissed climate science as “a particular political or ideological point of view” in opposition to teaching the subject in school.

Global warming is a “primitive fear” that is “without foundation"

Boris Johnson

Andrea Leadsom meanwhile asked whether climate change “was real” when she was appointed energy minister in 2015.

Former energy and climate change minister Matt Hancock received £32,000 from Neil Record, chairman of the think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, one of the most prominent players in “the Brexit influencing game” with long-standing links to a number of leadership contenders including Dominic Raab and Esther McVey. Record is also a board member of the Global Warming Policy Forum, alongside Bristol Port’s Terence Mordaunt.

Last year, Ofcom ruled that the BBC had broken its own accuracy rules after the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Nigel Lawson said that “all experts say there hasn’t been” increase in extreme weather events. The unchallenged claim was made on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.

Bankrolled

Johnson and Hunt have led the way in declared donations in the Tory leadership contest. Johnson has received almost a quarter of a million pounds since last October.

The former foreign secretary’s biggest donors include millionaire hedge fund boss Jon Wood, pro-Brexit digger scion Lord Bamford, and fox hunting enthusiast Johan Christofferson. Johnson has also received support from CTF Partners, the lobbying firm run by Lynton Crosby that is coordinating his leadership campaign.

Hunt’s donors include Ken Costa, investment banker and chairman of Alpha International, which promotes the Christian Alpha course. The former health secretary also received £10,000 each from London’s biggest McDonalds franchisee, Atul Pathak, and David Forbes-Nixon, co-founder of asset management firm Alcentra. RTC Education, an an education and training provider, has given £10,000 to both Hunt and Johnson.

Hunt previously worked part-time as Bristol Port’s far-east representative for almost two decades. In October 2018 the foreign minister had dinner with the Terence Mordaunt and Sir David Ord from Bristol Port. Ord is a major donor to the Tory party, giving almost £1.3 million to the Conservative Party since 2005, according to data from the Electoral Commission.

“I have known Jeremy for over 30 years. His negotiating skills and persistence will be critical in delivering Brexit to which I know he is totally committed,” Ord told the Evening Standard recently.

The Bristol Port Company donated £100,000 to the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the 2016 European Union referendum. The company has also donated to defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, a relative of Bristol Port chairman, Terence Mordaunt.

Commenting on openDemocracy’s findings, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

"Since both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have come out in support of a 2050 net zero target for greenhouse emissions, people might be wondering why their leadership bids are being bankrolled by a director of Britain’s leading climate denial group.

“We’re living through a climate emergency that’s a clear and present danger to the security of millions of people in the UK and around the world. Britain desperately needs a prime minister who understands the gravity of the threat we face and is willing to take the action needed to avert it. If Hunt and Johnson want to convince people they fit the bill, accepting money from climate deniers is the last thing they should be doing.”

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry said: “It is concerning that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are running to be prime minister and getting money from climate change deniers. We need strong leadership on climate right now. We need the prime minister to be on board and committing everything possible to meet these new targets.”

Terence Mordaunt told openDemocracy that the Global Warming Policy Foundation “gets a lot of stick” but “does a lot of good work”.

“No one has proved yet that CO2 is the culprit (of climate change). It may not be. If you ask me should we just put CO2 in the air I would say ‘no’. And that is the stance of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is a credible theory,” Mordaunt said.

Asked if he would like to see the UK government change its policy on climate change, he said: “There is one thing for certain. Electricity bills are about 20% higher than they would be… I worry about electricity costs, particularly for the port.”

openDemocracy has approached both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt for comment.

Additional reporting by Caroline Molloy

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