The tangled web of Tory leadership candidates and climate science denial

The UK’s next prime minister will probably be a no-dealer tied to transatlantic climate science denial network.

14 June 2019, 1.16pm
What climate crisis?

For decades, a shadowy network of lobbyists and campaigners have been beavering away in offices based in and around Westminster’s 55 Tufton Street, pushing the idea that the UK needs to slash regulations to maximise economic growth.

With the dawn of Brexit, this ideology found a vehicle. And thanks to the Tufton Street network, there was no shortage of drivers.

The network’s basic argument was that to secure favourable trade deals with the US and other countries, the UK needs to do away with obstructive things like environmental protections. And the quickest way to do so is through a hard or no-deal Brexit.

Such an eventuality could lead to “gaping holes” in environmental regulation, according to a parliamentary report by the Environmental Audit Committee. It’s perhaps no surprise then to find that those pushing for a hard or no-deal Brexit also have strong ties to a trans-Atlantic climate science denial network.

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A new map by DeSmog shows just how deep the relationship runs, however. It highlights almost 2,000 connections between the politicians and lobbyists on both sides of the Atlantic pushing for environmental regulations to be rolled back, all in the name of Brexit.

Tufton Street network

When Theresa May announced she was going to step down as prime minister, she fired the starting gun on a Conservative Party leadership race — and the chances of someone connected to the Tufton Street network replacing her look high.

Labour’s shadow energy secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey dragged the network – and their links to Tory leadership candidates – into the spotlight while standing in for Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s prime minister's questions, saying:

“Three current cabinet ministers have denied the scientific consensus on climate change and several of those standing in the Tory leadership contest have close links with organisations and individuals promoting climate denial.”

So who are these groups?

Some of the organisations operating from the offices in and around Tufton Street, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament, are familiar names — the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Civitas, and (a few doors down) the Institute of Economic Affairs. But many are more obscure, such as the New Culture Forum, the European Foundation, and UK2020.

And lots of Tory leadership contenders have links to the groups.

Bookies’ favourite Boris Johnson helped to launch the Initiative for Free Trade, a free-market lobby group founded by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, and based out of 57 Tufton Street.

The IFT published its plans for an ‘ideal’ trade deal with US group the Cato Institute in September 2018. The Cato Institute is funded by Charles and David Koch, owners of the US’s largest private fossil fuel company, and is has been accused by Greenpeace of being the primary sponsor of ‘climate denial’.

Johnson has also spoken at the American Enterprise Institute, an American thinktank with historic ties to ExxonMobil, and promoted the work of rogue astrophysicist and climate science denier Piers Corbyn, brother of Labour leader Jeremy.

Vote Leave’s other figurehead, Michael Gove, is a board member for Tufton Street’s New Culture Forum and has met with the Institute of Economic Affairs’ director of international trade and competition, Shanker Singham.

Singham is a Washington lobbyist who has “unparalleled access” to UK ministers, as openDemocracy revealed. He also has ties to multiple US organisations known for promoting climate science denial including the Koch-funded Heartland Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was on the advisory board of the pro-Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave and has written several articles for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, both organisations based at 55 Tufton Street. At the Institute for Economic Affair’s 60th birthday celebrations in 2015, Raab outlined how crucial the IEA had been to his thinking.

Another candidate, health secretary Matt Hancock, accepted a £4,000 donation from the IEA’s chairman around the same time as announcing a clampdown on the charity’s lobbying activities.

Trump ties

Many of the Tufton Street organisations have ties to US funders of climate science ”contrarianism”, which also helped Donald Trump into the White House.

Trump notably held meetings with Gove, Baker, and North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson during his state visit to the UK — all political figureheads of the Tufton Street network. The president also tried to meet Johnson, but had to settle for a “friendly and productive” call.

As well as being the home of free market ideologues, 55 Tufton Street was initially the residence of the Vote Leave campaign. Its chief executive, Matthew Elliott, founded Tufton outfit the Taxpayers’ Alliance and is a key bridge between the UK Tufton Street network, and major US libertarian funders.

Robert Mercer, the US hedge fund billionaire, was a key Trump backer and one of the main investors in Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy credited with finding the Leave campaign millions of additional voters while Elliott was in charge.

Elliott has also cited Koch-funded lobbying vehicle the Americans for Tax Reform as a key political inspiration. Elliott’s wife, Sarah, was also previously employed by the Americans for Tax Reform and another Koch-vehicle, the Americans for Prosperity.

Both Mercer and the Kochs also fund the Atlas network through the Donors Trust. Atlas is a Washington DC-based non-profit organisation that works to support more than 450 organisations in more than 90 countries promoting what it describes as individual liberty and free-market ideals.

Members from the UK’s Tufton Street network include the IEA, Taxpayers’ Alliance, Centre for Policy Studies, Adam Smith Institute, and Civitas, among others.

So if any of the current front-runners do make it into Downing Street, they will be bringing a lot of transatlantic baggage with them.

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