‘It's a Very Male-Dominated Space’: Welcome to the Sexist World of Brexit and Climate Science Denial


Do Brexiters and climate science deniers have a problem with women?

DeSmog UK has previously drawn links between climate science denial outfits based out of offices at 55 Tufton St, just around the corner from parliament. And research has shown that the impacts of climate change and Brexit will both affect the UK’s women disproportionately.

Yet, there is only a small percentage of women in leadership roles at organisations pushing for Brexit and to dampen the UK’s climate commitments, a DeSmog UK investigation reveals — and women who do speak out against these agendas are often subjected to horrific sexist abuse.


The new analysis shows that only around 16 percent of leadership roles at Westminster-based, pro-Brexit, and Eurosceptic organisations are occupied by women.

In the analysis, ‘leadership roles’ were defined as directors, presidents, chief executives and chairmen (and their deputies or policy advisors) and directors or heads of research or policy, plus senior fellows where they were responsible for significant research/policy leadership. For a more detailed breakdown see below.

When roles include board members, trustees, advisors and fellows were included, the number rises very slightly to about 27 percent; with women occupying under one-third of the positions.

The UK’s most prominent climate science denial think tank, the GWPF, is also hugely male dominated – with just one woman and 35 men at leadership level.

Get Weekly News Updates

There are some notable exceptions in the Brexit world: Baroness Stroud is the chief executive officer of the Legatum Institute; MP Priti Patel was heavily involved in the Vote Leave campaign; MP and Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom was another face of Vote Leave; and former MP Gisela Stuart was the chair of Vote Leave and is now the chair of nationalist campaign outfit Change Britain.

The Legatum Institute and Institute for Economic Affairs told DeSmog UK that their teams were balanced in terms of women in leadership positions.

Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch said that given the nature of the campaigns’ messages, the results were not particularly surprising. She told Desmog UK:

“It is so glaring among the Brexiters. The think tank directors, advisers, lobbyists. It’s just a sea of men. Yes, there’s Andrea Leadsom and others, but the political machine behind it is almost exclusively male.

Plus there’s a notable strand that denigrates women and mocks the MeToo movement. It’s patriarchy.” She points to tweets by pro-Brexit peer Lord Ashcroft as an example.

Professor Roberta Guerrina, head of the University of Surrey’s Department of Politics, and an expert in EU politics, agreed that the gender imbalance was stark but reflected academic research. She told DeSmog UK:

Only 17 percent of the experts, politicians, political leader, policy analysts interviewed or presented in the media were women – and that’s throughout the referendum campaign.”

Sexist Abuse of Climate Scientists

The way women are treated within the climate change and Brexit debates perhaps says something about the patriarchal nature of these agendas.

In the US, climate scientists Professor Kari Norgaard and Katharine Hayhoe told Climatewire “more than 90 percent of the harassing emails they receive are from men and often include gender-specific abuse”.

In the UK, climate scientists are targeted in similar ways.

Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics and co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change & Environment, was called a “puffed-up missy” and “dreary woman” by James Delingpole.

Haigh had a cartoon published on infamous climate science denial blog Watt’s Up With That portraying her as “Haigh Anxiety”. She told DeSmog UK:

There is some sort of subconscious sort of snidey sexism referring to me as being ‘priggish’ or ‘that woman…”

I think if I was feeling tired, sometimes I do get a bit demoralised… and thinking I’ve had enough of this. You can do without that really. There are worse things in the world – I think they [climate science deniers] are to be pitied, really.”

Haigh is not alone in experiencing this. Dr Tamsin Edwards, a climate physicist and lecturer at King’s College London previously told Buzzfeed:

“I’ve received tweets calling me a ‘dumb bitch’ and ‘princess’, asking if I want babies or if I’m ‘damaged goods’. I’ve had emails calling me a ‘bright young bimbo’ and saying that the physics went ‘right over my proverbially pretty [head]’.

And [when I engage with climate sceptics] I get called ‘naive’ a lot, which male scientists at my career stage don’t, even though they say and do similar things. I’ve also been told by this crowd that I only talk to sceptics because I’m ‘flattered’ by their praise – again, the male climate scientists are never told this.”

Impact on Women Leading the Fight against Brexit

Meanwhile, in the related sphere of Brexit politics, women have also been copping sexist flack for daring to raise their heads above the parapet.

Guerrina told DeSmog UK she was personally attacked as a result of co-authoring a study concluding that Brexit was the greatest threat to women’s rights in the UK.

The worst examples can be found in the replies to political commentator Robert Peston’s tweet about the study; the comments on this Guido Fawkes articleRod Liddle in the Sunday Times.

Liddle writes, “Yes, leaving the EU is a direct attack on fallopian tubes. I hope her study is read by all students at Surrey working towards a BA in gender hysteria, or a doctorate in hissy fits.”

Guerrina responded: “It didn’t engage with any of the issues presented in the article – It was a personal attack on the research agenda. And if I have to be completely honest, that’s not acceptable.”

She said the impact was a ‘stifling’ one, intending to silence women who speak out in public on this issue.

It affected me at a very deep personal level. I really struggled to get my thoughts back and produce writing as a result of the kind of abuse I received. To the point that I nearly did not submit a new article… I needed to make sure there were no typos, that sort of perfectionism that kind of becomes stifling,’ she told DeSmog UK.

She said that she and some colleagues put together a list of female experts that can speak on Brexit – but that the representation of women and issues women tend to care about within the Brexit debate were still sorely under-represented.

Guerrina said: “What we are seeing as it is unfolding as a process, negotiations etc, women are still not there, we still have a high volume – unacceptable volume – of ‘mannels’ (all male panels) discussing issues in a way that further detached the process from the lives of women.”

Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain, a campaign to stop Brexit in its tracks, echoed some of Guerrina’s remarks. She told DeSmog UK:

“It’s a very male-dominated space in general. I was at an event with about 200 people in the room and only three of them were women, for instance – and one woman on the panel.

“It does feel like there is a gender divide with ‘high politics’ like Brexit.

“I’ve experienced some online trolling, I believe women tend to get more abuse and criticism than their male counterparts.”

A source from within this political sphere told DeSmog UK that at a high-profile Brexit event last year a presenter on the stage told the audience a sexist joke at the expense of Andrea Leadsom.

The whole room, full of MPs, journalists, guffawed. I was shocked that it was such an openly sexist discussion,” they said.

However, Guerrina and Haigh both spoke about informal support networks among women in their sector – and Guerrina said her team is going to be doing workshops at conferences on how to handle online trolling and abuse.

I’m very thick skinned… but I thought I was very well equipped for dealing with this. When we think about early career researchers, younger women, women of colour, muslim women, we need to really think about how we support them.

If I found that for two weeks all I wanted to do was cocoon and move away from anything that was social media, public engagement etc, the impact would be much longer on someone who does not have the experience or the confidence to actually own the story.”

She urged people not to engage with personal abuse but generate a counter-discourse “about substance of work we do rather than abuse itself”.


Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – Women: 1, Men: 35

There is only one woman among the GWPF’s trustees. Apart from that, it’s men across the board – including nine other trustees, 25 advisors and its ‘science’ and energy editors. All seven of its annual lectures have also been delivered by men.

Vote Leave – Women: 9, Men: 39

The campaign group – which is currently embroiled in a massive controversy around alleged criminal offences relating to overspending and collusion – expired in 2016 after the referendum. While it was operational, there were two men in top positions and one woman – Gisela Stuart, who headed up Vote Leave’s board.

On balance, Vote Leave had more women as a proportion of its staff and associates – five women on the board and four women on its advisory committee, making a total of nine woman versus 39 men. Andrea Leadsom, who is renowned as the former environment secretary with a less than adequate grasp of climate science, was among the committee members.

The official pro-Brexit campaign was also supported by Owen Paterson and Matt Ridley, allies of the GWPF.

Business for Britain – Women: 9, Men: 59

The now-defunct campaign group was led primarily by three men. Business for Britain had nine women across its board, campaign team, and advisory council – and 59 men.

Legatum Institute – Women: 19, Men: 37 (including special trade commisioners)

Baroness Philippa Stroud is the chief executive of the shady and super influential Legatum Institute. Otherwise, the institute, which closely advises the government on Brexit, has four men in top positions. These include Matthew Elliott, the ex-chief exec of Vote Leave who is for limited government intervention on climate change, as a senior fellow in charge of ‘populism and political change’.

The powerful think tank also has a self-identified ‘Special Trade Commission’ on Brexit, comprising of eight men.

GIsela Stuart and columnist Tim Montgomerie – a self-described climate change sceptic who reckons climate change has done more good than harm – are among the institute’s fellows.

“Of our seven current research programmes, four are led or managed by women. Furthermore, the majority of the Legatum Institute’s core team is female, and we are led by a female CEO,” said a spokesperson for the Legatum Institute.

Institute of Economic Affairs – Women: 20, Men: 59 (excluding honorary fellows)

A long-standing free-market think-tank with links to an international web climate science misinformation, said Brexit would not spell disaster. The Institute of Economic Affairs’ staff looks fairly evenly split compared to others – but we count nine men with top, influential positions on policy and research, whereas other there are women in other, more junior roles. All five trustees are men.

Shanker Singham, formerly head special trade commissioner at the Legatum Institute, is now director of the international trade and competition unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs.

A spokesperson for the IEA said: “The IEA make appointments based on merit. Half of the Institute’s senior management team are women, and two of our most senior economists are female, rendering your accusation baseless.”

Leave Means Leave – Women: 2, Men: 46

This campaign for a “swift, clean” exit from the EU is dominated by men. It has two male co-chairs, an advisory board of six men, including former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who gave a speech to the GWPF in 2014 casting doubt on the severity of climate change. The group also has 40 ‘supporters’, of which only two are women, and one of which is Peter Lilley, who sits on the board of trustees of the GWPF.

The European Foundation – Women: 8, Men: 48

This Eurosceptic, climate ‘sceptic’ foundation has six women versus 48 men associated with it as staff, or advisors. There are two women occupying top posts, alongside its chairman Tory MP Bill Cash. Its male advisors include Owen Paterson and Matthew Elliott, and it published a report in 2009 claiming global warming is “natural”.

IFT (formerly the Initiative for Free Trade) – Women: 1, Men: 12

A pro-Brexit, free trade think tank launched in late 2017 by Boris Johnson and Liam Fox. The organisation’s president is eurosceptic climate science denier MP Daniel Hannan. Slightly humiliatingly, ithad to change its title from ‘Institute’ to ‘Initiative’. There is one women on the group’s board, out of seven, and its advisory board is composed of five men.

UK2020 – Women: 0, Men: 3

This think tank was set up by Owen Paterson and is run by three men, including renowned climate denier Matt Ridley as policy advisor. Tim Montgomerie is its political advisor.

The editorial board constitutes four men (including Paterson) and one woman. Last year, the think tank published a report that concluded Brexit could be pretty good for the UK’s environmental regulations: “It is absurd to seek to apply the same environmental rules across vastly different terrains and eco-systems… Local people, with their knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience, must be empowered to care for their local environment in its best interests.”

Centre for Policy Studies – Women: 5, Men: 17

Another free market think tank, which said Brexit was an opportunity for reform. Co-founded by one of the GWPFs rarely known donors, Lord Nigel Vinson. There are four men in top posts, versus one woman.

All other organisations mentioned in this article have been contacted for a comment, but have not yet responded.

Read more:

Get Weekly News Updates

Image: Pxhere CC0

Related Posts


But demand for hydrogen-powered vehicles remains low, and claims the gas is a net-zero technology are still unproven.

But demand for hydrogen-powered vehicles remains low, and claims the gas is a net-zero technology are still unproven.

The Conservative leader voted in favour of protecting the planet only 13 times in 20 years as an MP, a DeSmog analysis of his voting record reveals.

The Conservative leader voted in favour of protecting the planet only 13 times in 20 years as an MP, a DeSmog analysis of his voting record reveals.

Campaigners likened the fossil fuel company’s patronage of climate events to letting an “arsonist sponsor a fire safety conference”.

Campaigners likened the fossil fuel company’s patronage of climate events to letting an “arsonist sponsor a fire safety conference”.

Ministers met with Onward, accused of being “a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing”, more than any other think tank last year.

Ministers met with Onward, accused of being “a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing”, more than any other think tank last year.