‘Green Brexit’? Not with this dirty Brexit brigade, Mr Gove

The Brexit campaign included investors, brokers and businessmen with a financial interest in tearing up European Union regulations protecting the environment, an investigation by openDemocracy shows.

Brendan Montague
3 October 2017

Image: Michael Gove. Wikicommons, Creative Commons License.

Environment secretary Michael Gove yesterday told Conservative Party conference that an ‘exit from Brexit’ is not an option.

The ‘there is no alternative’ line is no great surprise. The appointment of Michael Gove as Environment Secretary, with his long history of involvement with American and UK neoliberal think tanks, has heightened concerns that Brexit is a ‘shock doctrine’ event.

Gove’s renewed claims yesterday that we can have a ‘green Brexit’ also stretch credulity.

According to our analysis, removing, attacking and undermining environmental and labour rights regulations was a likely motive for many of those at the heart of the Leave campaign. A motive hidden in plain sight but rarely reported.

More than half of the 72 leading members of the Vote Leave (VL) and Business for Britain (BfB) campaigns - those who appear on the group websites and in the press – have links to investments in companies that would directly benefit from a ‘bonfire’ of EU red tape.

Millionaires bypassing electoral rules 

A total of 17 senior members of Vote Leave and BfB have been involved in carbon intensive industries - including energy, transport, construction and tourism. Nine had investments or work for investment companies with interests in oil and gas. At least two others - PR professionals - represented the interests of the energy industry.

Among the most influential is David Wall. Wall was at the time of the referendum on the academic advisory board of BfB. He was also the Director of Business Development for IM Group, which imports cars from Japan. According to its website its activities included the “launch of 5th generation Subaru Legacy and Outback across all eight markets where IM Group sells Subaru.”

The press release boasts: “IM Group's longstanding relationship with Subaru has now spanned over 30 years, and its success continues to the benefit of both manufacturer and importer.”

Markets and regulations experts

From the get-go, BfB attacked those European Union regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions - including from the auto industry.

The second briefing produced by the BfB campaign group attacked the light duty vehicle emission standards, the EU Climate and Energy Package, and the Motor Fuel (Road Vehicle and Mobile Machinery) Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Regulations.

Wall is also a secretary of the Midlands Industrial Council (MIC), a major funder of the Conservative party, whose members also promised up to £5million to the Leave campaign. The MIC met with considerable controversy when it originally refused to name its financial supporters, allowing millionaires to bypass electoral commission rules on declaring political donations.

Other leading Brexiteers from BfB and VL who had vested interests in deregulation include Stuart Wheeler, who was a Vote Leave board member during the referendum campaign. A former donor to both the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Conservative party, he was also UKIP’s treasurer from 2011 to 2014.

A declaration of intent

Wheeler made his fortune founding the spread betting company IG Index (now IG Group), selling his remaining shares in 2003 for £34m. IG Group today facilitates trading in crude oil.

Jon Moynihan was on the boards of both BfB and VL. He retired as executive chairman of PA Consulting Group in 2013 and is now “joint principal” of Ipex Capital.

PA Consulting Group states on its website: “Our global team of markets and regulation experts work with energy investors and utilities to develop investment thesis, craft growth strategies, and improve operations while navigating a world of policy, technology, economic, and environmental uncertainty.”

Mr Moynihan said: “I have not visited a PA office nor had a business discussion with PA in...four years.” He went on to say of Ipex Capital: “Our current investments focus primarily on a green (i.e. lowers pollution) nanotechnology, and a research company creating a device for investigating heart disease. I know of no proposed or contemplated deregulation post Brexit or otherwise that would be of any assistance to these companies.”

Simon Stilwell was among the members of the advisory council of BfB who signed a letter - a declaration of war on the EU - published in The Telegraph in May 2014. He was at the time chief executive officer of Liberum Capital, but retired in February 2015 and is now director of Vintage Tack Room Ltd.

Liberum appears to have a relationship with Air France-KLM; APR Energy; BHP Billiton; BP; Deutsche Lufthansa; easyJet; Flybe Group and Genel Energy Plc to name but a few.

Dame Helena Morrissey CBE was a member of BfB during the leave campaign. She was at the same time CEO of Newton Investment Management. She stepped down last year, when the FT quoted her as saying “Obviously my departure is not related to [BNY Mellon’s ban on Brexit campaigning]”.

One online investment update suggests Newton manages investments in oil and gas - namely Eversource Energy, Centrica and Royal Dutch Shell. It also appears to manage investments in tobacco companies, including Reynolds American, Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco.

Then there is Rhoddy Swire, another signatory to the statement of intent from the BFB advisory board in The Telegraph. He signed off the letter with his title ‘founder of Pantheon Ventures’ and remains a senior partner. The company, among other things, boasts of “advising clients to invest in manufacturing relating to shale gas revolution in the United States”.

He told openDemocracy: “I have no financial interest in Pantheon since 2004. The views I express are personal to me and are based on the primacy of democracy sovereignty both of which are significantly lacking in the EU, not to mention the waste, inefficiency and lack of accountability.”

“Irrevocably committed to the City of London”

David Buik was and remains at Panmure Gordon & Co as a market commentator. He is “deeply and irrevocably committed to the City of London”. This seems to include investment in fossil fuels.

The firm stated on its website that it was “delighted to announce that international oil and gas exploration company, Borders & Southern Petroleum plc has today appointed Panmure Gordon as its sole nominated adviser and joint broker with immediate effect.”

There are many other members of the two Brexit campaign groups who are investors or work in investment, where the ultimate source of profits is not as easy to discover.

“They need to change public opinion”

Richard Patient was the London chairman of BfB. The website did not state his occupation. He is the founder of Thorncliffe, a public affairs consultancy - and something of a fan of the fracking industry.

Patient has been quoted as saying: "If the fracking industry learns anything from the refused application in Lancashire, it is that they need to change public opinion to what it was in 2013. They need to communicate that fracking is safe and desirable not just for the country, but the immediate community it will be taking place in.

“Otherwise Frack Free groups will be formed across the UK and councillors will be deafened by the scale of the opposition and no amount of Government ‘encouragement’ will help persuade councillors to approve applications.”

Patient has also been at the centre of a public affairs disaster, it seems. His company was originally called Indigo. The Telegraph newspaper performed an undercover sting which uncovered poor practice, and conflicts of interest.

‘I wouldn’t say dark arts’

“In March 2013 Greg Stone confirmed to undercover Telegraph reporters that many fellow employees at Indigo also worked as councillors or were involved in politics in some way,” the right-wing broadsheet reported.

“The paper recorded him on camera as saying 'that even if certain councillors would not talk to them about a planning application, there were certain “tricks of the trade” which offered “a good way of, of getting round this”.'

“‘A bit of cunning is needed when you’re dealing with some of these ones’, [Stone] admitted. ‘I wouldn’t say dark arts but, but, there is, there is sort of tricks of the trade’.”

Indigo Public Affairs changed its name to Thorncliffe Communications Limited on 18 Nov 2014, perhaps as an attempt to put the Telegraph controversy in the past before its director became a public supporter of BfB.

Mr Patient, when contacted by openDemocracy regarding this piece, said only: “I am delighted to have been involved in possibly the most successful political campaign ever, and one that received more votes than voted for any political party or proposition at any election or referendum in British political history.”

The investors, brokers and businessmen behind Dirty Brexit could have had any number of motives for supporting the campaign, other than their own financial interests. But is it not strange that when so many could potentially indirectly benefit from the removal of EU environmental regulations, that this was not a talking point during the campaign?

All those named in the piece were approached for a response, some declined to comment.

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