Former Top Gear Host Quits Motoring Lobby Group Over Electric Vehicle ‘Urban Myths’

Quentin Willson has left FairFuelUK, an anti-fuel duty group backed by several MPs, over its “lack of environmental sensibilities” and a report it recently released containing “unforgivable howlers”.
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Quentin Willson. Credit: Bexi81 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Former Top Gear host Quentin Willson has acrimoniously quit a motoring lobby group currently working with a group of MPs to stop the government’s planned phase-out of petrol and diesel cars, accusing it of spreading “old urban myths” about electric vehicles.

Willson, who co-hosted the TV show in the 1990s with Jeremy Clarkson, announced online that he had severed ties with FairFuelUK, criticising a recent report produced by the group for containing “unforgivable howlers”.

FairFuel has strongly opposed air quality measures such as Clean Air Zones, describing them as “based on flawed health data”, and claiming “emotive and dubious air quality claims” were damaging cars’ resale value. Air pollution has been estimated to shorten life expectancy by three years globally, and one and a half in the UK.

Willson wrote on networking website LinkedIn: “In the interests of transparency, after ten years of campaigning (unpaid) for lower fuel duty as a co-founder of FairFuel, I resigned as it was incompatible with my views on the future of electric cars. 

“I was also unhappy with the direction the lobby group was going and their lack of environmental sensibilities.”

He added: “After a decade of being their ambassador, FairFuel didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to my letter of resignation or make any announcement that I’d left. For the record, I now have no connection whatsoever with them.”

The group, which receives funding from the freight industry and boasts about having maintained a freeze on fuel duty in the UK for more than a decade, released a report in August alongside an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to which it provides secretarial support. The report opposed the government’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars and was critical of the transition to electric vehicles.

It won the endorsement of 13 MPs, including Craig Mackinlay, who is leading a “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” of backbench MPs opposed to what they view as the “punishingly high” cost of the government’s net zero emissions goal.

‘Unforgivable Howlers’

The report has been heavily disputed by experts, with the REA, the UK’s largest trade association for renewable energy and clean technology companies, accusing it of “peddling misinformation” with wildly inaccurate figures.

Willson criticised the report in his LinkedIn comments, writing: “There are certainly some unforgivable howlers. 

“There’s also scant evidence that they have any experience or knowledge of EVs but just prefer to re-heat all the old urban myths.”

He added: “If I was one of those MPs I’d be worried about my credibility.”

The report includes an article and quotes from FairFuelUK co-founder Howard Cox, the APPG’s listed “public enquiry point”.

It also contains supportive quotes from 13 MPs, including Steve Baker and Graham Stringer, both trustees of the UK’s principal climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), as well as Conservative peer Peter Lilley, a former GWPF trustee.

The group claims its campaigning has “saved drivers over £100 billion in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT through constructive and objective campaigning” since 2010, and says it opposes the “perennial demonisation of van drivers, hauliers and motorists”.

Commenting on the news, Greg Archer, UK Director of sustainable transport organisation Transport and Environment, said: “Quentin Wilson can see an imminent car crash and has bailed out before his credibility is blown – along with everyone else involved in the FairFuel campaign. 

“Its recent report is pseudo-science propaganda and has been extensively discredited. 

“A group that once spoke for motorists seems to have become a mouthpiece for climate sceptics, conspiracy theorists and the worst elements of the fossil fuel industry. Wilson understandably wants no part in this and others should follow his lead.”  

Howard Cox, who co-founded FairFuel with Willson, told DeSmog he was grateful for Willson’s contribution to the campaign, calling him a “consummate motoring professional”.

But he said “recollections may vary regarding Quentin’s decision to halt working with the campaign”, in an echo of recent comments by the Queen.

He insisted the group does support EVs and reductions in air pollution, but said “low-income families, small business, and our much-maligned logistics firms” should not be “forced into any cliff edge diesel and petrol sales ban.”

He said the recent APPG report was “well referenced” and contained “well-researched proposals, supported by the majority of drivers in a FairFuelUK survey”.

Willson did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Top Gear Host Quits Motoring Lobby Group Over Electric Vehicle ‘Urban Myths’
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Former Top Gear Host Quits Motoring Lobby Group Over Electric Vehicle ‘Urban Myths’
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. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists.

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