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No evidence for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s fracking claims, government admits

The former energy secretary had claimed anti-fracking groups were funded by the Russian president

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Ruby Lott-Lavigna Alastair Tibbitt
26 October 2022, 3.37pm

Ex-business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg


Uwe Deffner/Alamy Live News

The government’s energy department has no evidence that anti-fracking groups are funded “by Mr Putin” as claimed by the energy secretary in Parliament last month, openDemocracy can reveal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was sacked from his post in Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle on Tuesday, used parliamentary privilege to make the allegation on 22 September.

But when openDemocracy challenged the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Skills (BEIS) for evidence backing up the controversial claim, it was forced to admit it held none.

The comments were made during a debate about lifting a ban on fracking, which the new prime minister today hinted that he would reinstate in line with the Conservative manifesto.

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Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “There have been stories widely reported that some of the opposition to... fracking has been funded by Mr Putin’s regime.”

Parliamentary privilege allows MPs to speak freely inside the chamber without the normal legal restrictions – for instance, the threat that they could be sued for making libellous statements or breaching anonymity orders granted by a court.

MPs and Lords have in recent years been criticised for “abusing” it, with one judge saying: “The constitutional right to freedom of speech carries with it the obligation to exercise that right responsibly.”

BEIS admitted in response to our Freedom of Information request that it held no evidence supporting Rees-Mogg’s comments. But a spokesperson subsequently doubled down, saying it was “clearly true” that there were “stories” claiming anti-fracking groups have been funded by Putin, and linking to a Guardian article from eight years ago.

The idea that Putin has funded anti-fracking campaigners has been widely debunked.

The Guardian article in question was based on a single claim by NATO’s secretary general at the time, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who did not provide any further evidence for his claim. NATO’s press office has said the claims were Rasmussen’s own personal views.

The claim has been repeated in articles in the Daily Mail and The Critic, in both cases authored by Matt Ridley, who sits on the science and technology committee of the House of Lords.

Other departments were also unable to substantiate the claims. The Home Office declined to comment, saying it was nothing to do with them, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office simply said to direct any fracking questions to BEIS.

Labour’s shadow energy chief Ed Miliband tweeted after Rees-Mogg made the claim last month that it was an “outrageous slur”, calling it “shameful and disgraceful”.

Why should you care about freedom of information?

From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?

Join our experts for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time on 15 June.

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Jenna Corderoy Investigative reporter at openDemocracy and visiting lecturer at City University, London
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