Is Boris Johnson's Cabinet the Most Anti-Climate Action Ever?


Boris Johnson conducted an extraordinary cull of government ministers on his first day as Prime Minister. His mission was mainly to bring in new, more pro-Leave blood to replace the supposed Brexit balance of Theresa May’s cabinet. 

But as a consequence, the UK now finds itself governed by a collection of some of the UK’s most right-wing politicians, some of whom have promoted climate science denial and many of whom have ties to pro-deregulation campaign groups based in and around Westminster’s 55 Tufton Street.

Here’s a who’s who, and how they fit into the UK’s pro-Brexit, anti-climate action network.

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Boris Johnson (Prime Minister)

The new Prime Minister himself has a patchy grasp of climate science

In December 2015, following the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement, Johnson wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph praising the work of notorious climate science denier and brother of the Labour leader, Piers Corbyn.

Johnson’s position has apparently changed since then, though, having recently come out in support of a 2050 “net zero” emissions target, a commitment he reaffirmed in his first address to parliament as Prime Minister. And during his stint as Foreign Secretary, he said he would “continue to lobby the U.S. at all levels to continue to take climate change extremely seriously.” That didn’t stop Johnson presiding over a 60 percent cut in “climate attaches” at the Foreign Office, however.

Johnson also remains closely tied to the UK‘s climate science denial network and US groups known for spreading disinformation around climate change. 

During the Conservative party leadership campaign, he received a £25,000 donation from Terence Mordaunt, a director of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), the campaign wing of the UK’s principal climate science denial group founded by Lord Nigel Lawson. First Corporate Shipping, which Mordaunt co-owns, donated to both Johnson and Hunt’s leadership campaigns, as openDemocracy revealed.

And in September 2018, Johnson went on an all-expenses-paid trip to the US to speak at a black tie dinner organised by the American Enterprise Institute, a Koch-funded free-market thinktank that has lobbied hard against climate action in the US.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Leader of the Commons)

The most hardline Brexiteer in Johnson’s cabinet, Rees-Mogg is likewise the most explicit climate science denier.

Rees-Mogg has claimed that “climate alarmism” is responsible for high energy prices, and that it was unrealistic for scientists to project future climate changes as meteorologists struggle to correctly predict the weather. He wrote in the Telegraph in 2013 that:

It is widely accepted that carbon dioxide emissions have risen but the effect on the climate remains much debated while the computer modelling that has been done to date has not proved especially accurate … common sense dictates that if the Meteorological Office cannot forecast the next season’s weather with any success it is ambitious to predict what will happen decades ahead.”

In 2014, he was referred to the parliamentary standards watchdog for failing to disclose interests in a company with millions of pounds invested in energy companies when speaking in relevant debates. Somerset Capital, the hedge fund of which Rees-Mogg is a Director, held investments worth about £3 million in mining firms, £2.4 million in oil and gas producers, as well as £23 million in tobacco companies.

Rees-Mogg is also an advisor to Economists for Free Trade, a campaign group with strong ties to the right-leaning media advocating the benefits of a no-deal Brexit. The group has close ties with organisations working out of offices in and around Tufton Street, including the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Institute of Economic Affairs.

Rees-Mogg has also regularly clashed with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay over the UK‘s departure from the EU. Barclay does not share Rees-Mogg’s views on climate change, telling an international conference in May 2019 that, “as a planet, the changing climate threatens our lands and livelihoods”.

Read more about the cabinet’s (mis)deeds in DeSmog’s Disinformation Database.

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Dominic Raab (Foreign Secretary)

Despite being an uncelebrated Brexit Secretary, Raab has found himself in charge of the UK’s foreign policy. He’s likely to have plenty of people attached to the Tufton Street network scrambling to advise him.

Raab served on the political advisory board of the campaign group Leave Means Leave, alongside North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson, who has long lobbied to cut regulations and targets related to climate change. Paterson has strong ties to the UK’s premier climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Paterson’s brother-in-law is hereditary peer Matt Ridley, who sits on the GWPF’s advisory board.

Leave Means Leave was also supported by some of the UK’s most prominent climate science deniers such as former Tory MP (and now Lord) Peter Lilley, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson. It was also backed by libertarian Tories who have called for deregulation and pushed disinformation on climate change including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Christopher Chope and Ian Paisley, to name a few.

Raab has published several articles on the Taxpayers’ Alliance website, a campaign group lobbying to cut taxes including the climate change levy. In 2012, he wrote a piece for Taxpayers’ Alliance demanding the government be transparent about the cost of its climate policies, according to the group’s Twitter feed. The link to the story is no longer available. 


Andrea Leadsom (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Leadsom is back in the cabinet, having resigned in May 2019 in a move that was largely seen as firing the starting gun on Theresa May’s slow departure from 10 Downing Street. She’s a familiar face, having previously been Leader of the Commons, Environment Secretary and an Energy Minister.

She caused early controversy in her first government role as Energy Minister when she said, “when I first came to this job one of my two questions was: ‘Is climate change real?’ and the other was ‘Is hydraulic fracturing safe?’” Though during her time in what was then the Department of Energy and Climate Change she acknowledged that “on both of those questions I am now completely persuaded.” 

Nonetheless, she has continued to be a staunch supporter of fracking in the UK. She told the Conservative Party conference in 2015 that, “there is no chance in the near term that we move away from fossil fuels; that just cannot happen.” However, when she ran for the leadership this time round (getting eliminated in the first round), she said that if she became Prime Minister she would “declare a climate emergency”

In her new role, she’ll be tasked with delivering the UK’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Leadsom won’t be working alongside Claire Perry, though, who recently took a leave of absence from the department and her role as Energy Minister. Amid the cabinet reshuffle, she confirmed she would be leaving BEIS permanently to take on the role as President of COP26, the annual UN climate talks which will take place in the UK in 2020.

Liz Truss (International Trade Secretary)

Truss replaces Liam Fox, who had a far from stellar record on climate action. But while the new International Trade Secretary may “fully agree that climate change is happening”, evidence of her commitment to tackling the issue over the years is thin on the ground.

After taking over from Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary in 2014, Truss called solar farms “ugly” and a “blight on the landscape”, and announced a cut in subsidies for the industry. Truss’s argument that solar farms threaten the country’s food security were later revealed not to have been supported by any evidence.

A former Shell manager and vocal supporter of Heathrow expansion, Truss also backs fracking. While Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Truss tweeted: “Good to see PM supporting fracking against NIMBY question. #frackontrack #pmqs”.

She also caused alarm during this time with promises to axe “white elephant projects”, including low-carbon initiatives. And in a House of Commons debate this year, Truss described those involved in Extinction Rebellion protests as a “bunch of anti-capitalists that glue themselves to public transport”.

With long-held free-market beliefs, Truss founded the “Free Enterprise Group” of Conservative MPs in 2011 and was last year revealed to have met with Koch-funded libertarian groups, with a history of climate science denial, during an official trip to the US.

She has also spoken at events organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, groups at the heart of a network of pro-deregulation groups based in and around 55 Tufton Street.

Michael Gove (Cabinet Office Minister)

Gove busily promoted his “shy green” credentials while Environment Secretary, but his history suggests an element of political pragmatism when committing to climate action. Gove will now be based out of the Cabinet Office as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster — a position with a broad remit that is generally seen as acting as a ‘fixer’ for the Prime Minister.

While Education Secretary, Gove planned to exclude climate change from the geography national curriculum but abandoned his plans after public outrage. In 2014, Gove said he had “read with concern” a report by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which accused “activist” teachers of trying to turn pupils into “foot soldiers of the green movement.” Andrew Montford, the GWPF’s Deputy Director who co-wrote the report and runs the climate-sceptic Bishop Hill blog, said children were being brainwashed for “political ends.” 

Gove is very familiar with the Institute of Economic Affairs, which lobbies on behalf of companies including oil giants BP. An undercover investigation last year revealed Shanker Singham, the Director of International Trade and Competition at the institute, located a stone’s throw from Tufton Street, regularly speaks with Gove. Singham is a former Washington lobbyist who has “unparalleled access” to UK ministers, ties to multiple US organisations known for promoting climate science denial, including the Koch-funded Heartland Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Gove is also an advisory committee member of campaign group The New Culture Forum, which works to change cultural debates the group believes are dominated by “the Left,” and is based out of 55 Tufton Street, home to the climate science denying GWPF. Gove was also previously on the advisory council of Liam Fox’s now defunct neoconservative thinktank The Atlantic Bridge, which worked with groups promoting climate science denial in the US.

Sajid Javid (Chancellor of the Exchequer)

Javid now finds himself in the top tier of government, having previously been Home Secretary and before that Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. And during his first job on the front bench, Javid decided to use his power as Communities Secretary to overrule Lancashire County Council’s decision to block fracking in the area. 

In October 2016, he found in favour of the appeal by shale gas company Cuadrilla Resources, which is now fracking at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool despite more than two years of strong local opposition. Explaining the decision, he argued it was the job of determining whether fracking is compatible with our climate targets is “a matter for future national policy”.

However, Javid later rejected plans for a new coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumbria. That decision was taken in part due to concerns over how the mine would fit with the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy and its impact on local communities.

Javid has close ties to the Tufton Street network through his connection to Vote Leave chief and Taxpayers’ Alliance founder Matthew Elliott, who was part of his leadership campaign team. Elliott sits at the heart of a trans-Atlantic network of campaign groups lobbying for market deregulation post-Brexit, including rolling back key environmental protections. 

Read more about the UK‘s resistance to fracking in our special series — Frack Off: Meet the Campaigners Protecting Lancashire from Fracking

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Priti Patel (Home Secretary)

Patel is probably best known for her controversial comments on social policy over the years, including a call for the death penalty to be reinstated, which she claims to have changed her mind on in recent years. Patel left May’s cabinet in disgrace following revelations that she had set up unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials while International Development Secretary.

A former lobbyist for the tobacco industry, Patel has been a strong advocate for fracking, including in national parks. In an article on ConservativeHome, Patel hit out at “parts of the green lobby and its eco-extremist followers” who she said should back fracking if they “genuinely believed in tackling climate change”.

After her stint at the Department for International Development, which she had previously called to be abolished, Patel wrote that the UK shouldn’t be using its aid budget to help developing countries avoid relying on fossil fuels, calling them “anti-development restrictions”. She also stated that “coal with CCS is vital for tackling climate change” and backed a US push for “cleaner” fossil fuels under President Trump. The article was originally published on the CapX website run by the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies and approvingly reposted by the Global Warming Policy Forum.

Credit: Policy Exchange CC BY 2.0

Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary)

Shapps is no stranger to controversy, having resigned from Theresa May’s cabinet in 2015 after allegations of bullying. He is also no stranger to ‘alternative facts’ having denied using a pseudonym while holding a second job (which he later admitted) and claiming the lights would go out over Christmas in 2016 due to a lack of coal power (they didn’t).

Those claims came from a report by the British Infrastructure Group, which Shapps chaired. Shapps was quoted as saying, “it is clear that a perfect coincidence of numerous policies designed to reduce Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions has had the unintended effect of hollowing out the reliability of the electricity generating sector”. The claims were strongly rebutted by academics including Sussex University Professor Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

The report’s lead researcher was Tim Philpott, who was also an aide to Shapps. Philpott used to work for Business for Britain, an organisation that claims it “formed the basis for Vote Leave”. Business for Britain was at the heart of a cosy Euro-sceptic climate denier network that pushed for Brexit and getting rid of regulations that would clean up the UK’s energy system based out of Westminster offices at 55 Tufton Street.  Philpott also co-authored a UKIP report on the UK‘s energy system in early 2016 with climate science denying former MEP Roger Helmer.

Theresa Villiers (Environment Secretary)

Villiers takes over from Michael Gove as Environment Secretary, having previously been Northern Ireland Secretary and Transport Minister. She has said that “action on climate change is vital” and talked up the UK’s renewable energy potential. 

She has also come out against Heathrow airport expansion due to concerns over air quality. “We should not make a serious problem even worse by trying to expand Heathrow,” she said. She is not against airport expansion altogether, however, arguing that adding a runway at Gatwick would be a better option.

Like most Tories, she is seen as being broadly pro-fracking, and has previously argued that exploiting shale gas “has potential for use in the UK for helping us with energy security in keeping energy bills as low as possible”.

Esther McVey (Housing Minister)

McVey is another new cabinet member who has sparked controversy in the past with some of her socially conservative views, apparently welcoming the rise in foodbank use in the UK and supporting the right of parents to take their children out of LGBT education. She has remained relatively tight-lipped about environmental issues, though.

In a rare public statement, McVey refused to back a 2050 “net zero” emissions target during a Q&A session with ConservativeHome readers during the Conservative leadership contest, saying: “If you want to guarantee failure, get politicians to set a target.” While accepting that environmental protection was “vital for the legacy we leave future generations” and that climate change “affects us all”, she also took a shot at “wealthy environmental activists” and said business doesn’t need targets but the “government to stop slapping taxes on them”. She has nevertheless celebrated the UK’s reduction in CO2 emissions, by consumption.

McVey is engaged to Philip Davies, one of the two remaining MPs to have voted against the landmark Climate Change Act in 2008.

Matt Hancock (Health Secretary)

One of the only cabinet ministers to survive Boris’ cull, Hancock keeps his job as Health Secretary.

While seen as one of the more progressive cabinet ministers, Hancock has taken donations from Neil Record, a funder of the UK’s leading climate science denial lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In 2018, DeSmog found that Hancock had been receiving £4,000 a year from Record since 2018, according to Parliament’s register of interests.

Updated 29/08/2019 to correct Esther McVey’s cabinet position, which had previously been listed as Secretary of State.

Main image credit: Chatham House/Flickr CC BY 2.0

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