openDemocracyUK

Revealed: the climate science deniers behind the Brexit campaign

Desmog UK have revealed the web of connections between Britain's climate deniers and the campaign to leave the EU.

Kyla Mandel
14 June 2016
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55 Tufton Street, Google Street View

Nestled inside a four-storey, multi-million pound Westminster building sits the nucleus of the Brexit debate. But what do we really know about the people and organisations behind the campaign to leave the EU?

New mapping by DeSmog UK reveals that there is a deep-rooted connection between some of the most prominent Euro-sceptic groups and the UK’s community of climate science deniers.

As this web shows, these organisations share many of the same members and donors. And as it just so happens, this group of Brexit climate deniers is working under the same roof just steps from the Houses of Parliament.

Together, this close-knit network – which includes the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Vote Leave campaign, and The European Foundation – makes up the intellectual driving force behind the push for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

And their reach extends beyond the doors of their 55 Tufton Street address to include key decision makers and parts of the traditional UK media.

Indeed, at the centre of the Brexit debate sit politicians who have long been part of the country’s climate sceptic fringe – from Justice Secretary Michael Gove who once pushed for global warming to be removed from the national geography curriculum to Boris Johnson who’s flirted with climate scepticism in his Telegraph columns, and Owen Paterson who sought to slash climate change spending as environment secretary.

So, with less than 10 days to go, it begs the question: If Britain does in fact vote to leave, what will happen to the UK’s climate change policy?

view this map on LittleSis

Tying together the intricate web of connections between this small, mostly male, contingent helps to better understand what unites this group.

The overlap between those who want to leave the EU and those who deny the science on climate change runs deeps. It stems from a common neoliberal ideology that fears top-down state interventions and regulations which are perceived as threatening values of individual freedom, economic (market) freedom, or the sovereignty of national governments. Under this logic, we must reject both the European Union and most climate legislation. 

It makes sense then, that last November Lord Lawson’s climate science denying think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), moved its headquarters to this Westminster building.

Lawson is also a key figure within the Vote Leave campaign. But he isn’t their only climate science denier.

Other Vote Leave members include Matt Ridley, a Times columnist and member of both the GWPF and Paterson’s UK2020, UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, who is known for saying his biggest regret is voting in favour of the 2008 Climate Change Act, and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan who has in the past written several columns for the Telegraph questioning climate change.

The potential impact, however, that this climate-euro sceptic bubble might have in a post-Brexit world has not gone entirely unnoticed.

Writing in the Guardian this week, Green MP Caroline Lucas and former Foreign Office diplomat John Ashton warn that a vote to leave the EU may bolster those politicians who wish to repeal the UK’s existing climate policies.

As they explain: "Brexit would leave the field clear for those on the right who always hated the idea that by intervening in the economy for the public good we should build an energy system that is clean, efficient, decentralised and driven by the needs of households and communities, not overbearing private corporations.”

"They would demand the repeal of the Climate Change Act, the dismantling of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a new dash for gas with even more fracking than is currently in prospect, and the removal of any remaining measures to encourage renewables, energy efficiency and community energy,” they continue.

“The record of the leading Brexiters, in whose image a post-referendum government would be shaped, offers no reassurance that they would resist any of this."

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics based on class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put the need for protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.

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