Revealed: Liam Fox's Trade Department is Taking Advice from 'Experts' with Links to Climate Science Denial Networks


Hardline Brexiteers with links to a network of organisations spreading disinformation about climate change have seats on an expert committee closely advising international trade secretary Liam Fox, a freedom of information request reveals.   

The five-member committee includes Peter Lilley, one of the board members of the climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Lilley hinted at his role within the committee earlier this year when an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times secretly recorded him and former ministers Lord Lansley and Andrew Mitchell offering information about the UK government’s approach to Brexit to a fictitious Chinese company in exchange for money. All three have denied any wrongdoing.

During the recording, Lilley boasted about his strong ties to the government and said: “The other thing I am involved with – Liam Fox has set-up a committee of experts of which I am one”.

Now DeSmog UK can reveal for the first time the details of that committee. 

Although the Department for International Trade (DIT) did not confirm whether Fox personally created the committee, it said it was formed on 10 October 2017, days before a crunch EU summit over the Brexit deal.

A DIT spokesman described it as an “official-led committee of independent specialists which advises and supports officials on matters related to trade and investment”. The DIT added it engages with other experts and academics on similar issues outside of the committee. The committee has no budget and members are not paid for their advisory role.

Here is a run down of the committee’s five members.

Peter Lilley

A former Conservative MP, Lilley is known for sitting on the board of trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

He has a history of consistently voting against policy measures to tackle climate change and he was one of three MPs to vote against the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008. He later joined a group seeking to repeal the act.

Despite his stance on the issue, he was a member of the government’s environmental audit committee and Parliament’s energy and climate change committee.

In 2014, he voted against the committee’s acceptance of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) conclusion that humans are the dominant cause of global warming.

Lilley has described himself as a “global lukewarmist”. He previously argued that while he accepts carbon dioxide does have a warming effect on the planet, this effect is unknown and could be beneficial for plants.

He stepped down as an MP ahead of the 2017 general election. He was expected to be offered a peerage prior to Channel 4 airing its exposé.

Shanker Singham

Shanker Singham was recently appointed director of the international trade and competition unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) — a free-market think-tank with close ties to the hub of right-leaning organisations, including climate science denying GWPF, based at 55 Tufton Street.

In his role, Singham will make the case for the removal of trade barriers as the UK prepares to exit the EU  — a core value of the IEA, which promotes deregulation across all sectors, including the environment.

The IEA also plays a leading role among a group of 80 organisations worldwide advocating similar aims. The Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the International Policy Network which are part of the IEA’s network are also known to spread climate science denial.

Before joining the IEA, Singham was widely seen as one of the top Brexit policy advisers to the government through his role at the Legatum Institute, a think tank focused on “increasing prosperity and human flourishing”. OpenDemocracy described Leagtum as “the Brexiteers’ favourite think tank” and “arguably the most influential think tank in the country”.

Both the IEA and the Legatum Institute were named among a group of transatlantic organisations set to hold “shadow trade talks” in a bid to significantly weaken existing regulation, according to documents uncovered by Unearthed.

On the US side of the talks, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI),  the Manhattan Institute and the Cato Institute are listed as official partners —  all of them have strong ties to climate science denial misinformation campaigns in the US.

Ruth Lea

Ruth Lea is an economic adviser at Arbuthnot Banking Group but her career spans across the civil service, policy research and the media. She is an advisor to the IEA.

Lea’s questioned climate science in a 2011 Perspectives column for Arbuthnot Banking Group titled “Britain’s high energy prices: the folly of wind power” in which she criticised the UK’s climate policy for driving up energy prices. She argued that “‘green policies’ were damaging business” and that Britain’s climate and emission reduction policy was having “zero net impact on global emissions totals”. She also blamed the Climate Change Act for advocating the use of “costly and intermittent” wind power:

Even if one accepts the need to cut carbon emissions, not a universal sentiment by any means, it is clear that the dash for wind-power can only be ‘justified’ by Britain’s misguided commitment to the 15 percent renewables target by 2020,” she wrote.

However, Lea’s projections of energy prices more than doubling by 2020 proved untrue. Over the last few years, the price of renewable energy has dropped significantly with onshore and offshore wind and solar energy now cheaper than new gas, according to government projections.

Liam Halligan

An economist and journalist for the Sunday Telegraph, Halligan has written for a number of national publications.

He is a columnist for hardline Brexiteer Tim Montgomerie’s recently launched UnHerd media platform, which offers commentary on themes such as globalisation, technology and the media.

In a 2014 article for The Telegraph, Halligan reported on Owen Paterson’s annual lecture to the GWPF during which the North Shropshire MP attacked the climate consensus and urged his audience to “stand up to the bullies of the environmental movement” by dropping emission reduction targets and repealing the Climate Change Act. It later emerged the speech had been written by prominent climate science denier, Matt Ridley.

Halligan described Paterson’s intervention as “a corker”. “From the back of the hall, I saw before me a speaker at the top of his game and an audience transfixed. It was passionate, old-school oratory, the likes of which seems rare in contemporary public life,” he said.

The piece was a shift from his previous stance on the issue. In a 2006 column, Halligan recognised the “huge commercial opportunities” linked to tackling climate change and particularly new energy sources, adding “we need to get the policy framework right and we need to move fast”.

Xavier Rolet

Xavier Rolet was CEO of the London Stock Exchange (LSE) between 2009 and 2017.  The LSE is one of the most carbon intensive markets in the world.

His departure was overshadowed by a reported row with one of the company’s shareholders forcing the group to ask Rolet to leave his post a year before planned. His departure on the eve of Brexit sparked much speculation among the financial press.

A Frenchman determined to keep the UK in the EU, Rolet embraced the Brexit vote following the referendum result. He has accompanied Prime Minister Theresa May to Saudi Arabia in a bid to convince one of the world’s largest oil company Aramco to list in London — a show of his influence on the government’s Brexit approach.

To find out more about the key players spreading disinformation on climate change in the UK, check out DeSmogUK’s Disinformation Database.

Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Get Weekly News Updates

Related Posts


This article by The Energy Mix is published here as part of the global journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now. A citizens’ committee appointed by the City of Edmonton is calling on Mayor...

The nascent Orka movement has gained access to the president after vowing to toss the EU’s Green Deal “in the trash”.

The nascent Orka movement has gained access to the president after vowing to toss the EU’s Green Deal “in the trash”.

Science historian Naomi Oreskes says climate change is not just about fossil fuel profits, but also the political ideology supporting capitalism.

Science historian Naomi Oreskes says climate change is not just about fossil fuel profits, but also the political ideology supporting capitalism.

Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.

Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.