Tory MP Who Argued China’s Emissions Made Net Zero a ‘Hard Sell’ Took Donation From Car Importer Active in China

Brendan Clark-Smith has “no credibility” on climate change after “conflict of interest” is revealed, say critics.
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Brendan Clarke-Smith MP. Credit: David Woolfall (CC BY 3.0)

A “Red Wall” Conservative MP who said persuading Brits to cut their emissions was a “hard sell” because of inaction by China took a £3,000 donation in 2019 from a major Brexit-backing car import business operating in the country. 

In a WhatsApp chat with fellow Tory MPs following the release of a poll that found petrol and diesel drivers are more likely to vote Tory, reported in The Sun last week, Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “It’s a hard sell asking people to make sacrifices when the rest of the world, China/Russia etc, are carrying on as usual.”

He added: “It can’t happen overnight – and others need to pull their weight, rather than us doing all the legwork.”

But the Bassetlaw MP – a Brexiter who was a member of his local Vote Leave campaign – received £3,000 ahead of the 2019 general election from IM Group, a UK import-export business whose automotive wing International Motors Ltd boasts of working with “some of the largest vehicle manufacturers” in China.

The company also manages the Beijing branch of the UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency, which tests and approves new vehicles, and records their fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Another MP in the WhatsApp chat, Jackie Doyle-Price, who warned the party would lose working-class Red Wall voters if they are seen as too “metropolitan”, received £2,700 last year from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Qatar, a major oil and gas-producing state, for a trip with the All-Party Parliamentary British-Qatar group.

The Thurrock MP also received £3,500 in 2013 from the United Arab Emirates, another Middle Eastern petrostate, for a trade visit.

IM Group

IM Group is chaired by former Tory peer and billionaire motor trade entrepreneur Lord Edmiston, and gave nearly £500,000 to the Conservative Party in the lead-up to the 2019 general election. £36,800 of this was given through International Motors, which has donated more than £3 million to the Tory Party over the last 20 years, according to Electoral Commission data. 

Including donations made by Lord Edmiston personally, the company group has bankrolled the Conservative Party to the tune of over £4 million.

International Motors also donated £850,000 to the official Brexit campaign Vote Leave a month before the EU referendum. IM Group donated £100,000 to Grassroots Out, the Brexit campaign run by billionaire businessman Arron Banks and led by Nigel Farage, bringing the group’s total Brexit funding to nearly £1 million.  

DeSmog has previously mapped the extensive crossover between those who have backed Brexit and opposed action on climate change.

Edmiston has reportedly been a member of the Midlands Industrial Council, a secretive Conservative Party donor group that has in turn funded the TaxPayers’ Alliance, an anti-regulation group with a history of fighting government action on climate change.

According to its website, the company has an office in Beijing, 60 employees across China, and its activities include being “the official Chinese importer for Autoglym car care and valeting products”. IML Beijing also offers “technical services” to car manufacturers wishing to export.

IM Group owns the UK franchise of Japanese car manufacturer Subaru, whose website argues that Brexit will be “no big deal” for Subaru owners.

Responding to the findings, Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrats’ climate spokesperson, said: “The hypocrisy of Tory backbenchers is astonishing. Many have spent years arguing that we didn’t need to do anything about the climate crisis, and now they’ve lost that argument they want to delay action instead. 

“They blame other countries for emissions, while failing to acknowledge that the UK has been one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution.”

She added: “This year the UK is hosting COP26, our last, best hope to tackle the climate emergency. The UK must make changes at home if we are to make progress across the globe, yet these Tory backbenchers seem happy to profit from highly polluting industries in the countries they criticise,” she added.

Greg Archer, UK Director of green group Transport and Environment, said: “Conservative backbenchers that line their pockets with money from climate deniers and polluting businesses have no credibility arguing climate goals are too expensive.”

“Families flooded or burned out of their homes in recent weeks know the cost of climate inaction is already too high.”

‘Cost of Net Zero’

The news comes as backbench Tory MPs prepare to mount a challenge to the government’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, with the launch of a “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” expected in the coming weeks. 

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who was recently made a trustee of the UK’s main climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has been leading a campaign against the “cost of net zero”. 

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, who is leading the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, chairs another group of MPs in support of the freight industry-funded Fair Fuel UK campaign. The group released a report opposing the UK’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars earlier this month.

The MPs warn of “public unrest” over the cost of the government’s green policies, especially in so-called Red Wall seats in northern England, the Midlands, and north-east Wales historically held by Labour and won by the Conservatives in 2019.

Three of the MPs quoted in the WhatsApp chat – Clarke-Smith, Ashfield MP Lee Anderson and Workington MP Mark Jenkinson – represent Red Wall seats. Clarke-Smith was the first Tory to win Bassetlaw since 1929. 

In the chat, Jenkinson criticised the delayed opening of a new coking coal mine in Cumbria, and argued that shutting down mines would lead to greater imports from China and Russia, according to The Sun.

The Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent advisers, have said “net zero” is affordable and offset by savings and new revenue, while the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates pursuing the goal would cost less than battling COVID-19. 

China currently has the world’s highest level of greenhouse gas emissions but is not the biggest polluter cumulatively.   

Clarke-Smith, Doyle-Price and IM Group did not respond to a request for comment. 

Additional research by Michaela Herrmann.

Tory MP Who Argued China’s Emissions Made Net Zero a ‘Hard Sell’ Took Donation From Car Importer Active in China
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Tory MP Who Argued China’s Emissions Made Net Zero a ‘Hard Sell’ Took Donation From Car Importer Active in China
Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah.

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