The Tory MP leading a backbench campaign against the government’s net zero policies is currently employing two aides linked to the UK’s most high-profile climate science denial group, DeSmog can reveal.
Craig Mackinlay, chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), recently hired Harry Wilkinson, head of policy at the anonymously funded Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), to work for him in Parliament. Wilkinson was previously employed by GWPF founder and former chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson, who recently said climate change was “not a problem”.
Official rules, which give aides a 28-day window to register, mean Wilkinson has yet to be declared on the House of Commons register, despite having a parliamentary pass.
Wilkinson joins existing Mackinlay aide Ruth Lea, a trustee of the organisation until last year who has said people should “move on” from worrying about “climate change” and serves as an adviser to a bank run by a former Conservative Party treasurer.
Two other members of the NZSG, including former Brexit minister Steve Baker, also have connections to the GWPF.
The revelations should deal “a fatal blow” to the credibility of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, according to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, who warned that MPs should be wary of “regurgitating [GWPF] propaganda” and instead start thinking “rigorously” about the climate.
Net Zero Scrutiny
The NZSG, formed by Mackinlay and fellow Tory MP Steve Baker last year to oppose the UK’s net zero measures, finally revealed its 19 supporters last month in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, which called for cuts to green taxes and increased fossil fuel production.
Mackinlay has previously said the NZSG is using research in its campaigns that is sourced from the GWPF, which was founded with the purpose of combating “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to tackle climate change.
Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe, joined the GWPF as a trustee last May and Lord Peter Lilley, another NZSG member, is a former trustee of the charity. Both attended its annual lecture at the end of November, where US scientist Professor Steve Koonin questioned the scientific consensus around the climate crisis.
The GWPF’s main source of income is through donations, but it does not disclose its funding sources. However, a handful of donors have been revealed over the years, including Michael Hintze, a hedge-fund manager and major Tory donor; Neil Record, chairman of the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs; and Lord Nigel Vinson, co-founder of the Centre for Policy Studies think tank.
The NZSG claims to accept climate science and Mackinlay recently said he is “not a climate-change denier”. But his two taxpayer-funded aides have both regularly challenged mainstream climate science.
Wilkinson has previously criticised BBC coverage of climate change as “alarmist”. He stated in 2018 that the idea “global warming can be somehow ‘irreversible’ is pure propaganda; the climate has always been changing and it always will”. Wilkinson has also said that a temperature rise of more than two degrees is “not inherently dangerous”.
Wilkinson is regularly invited to speak about climate policy in right-leaning media, including on television and radio channel GB News and talkRADIO. In the past year he has tweeted that “the ‘climate crisis’ is a religious belief, nothing to do with science” and that anyone who believes all forms of extreme weather are getting worse because of climate change is a “climate change denier”.
He was one of at least 11 climate science deniers who attended the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, during which he falsely claimed the conference was being powered by diesel generators, a move environmental experts described as “desperate”.
A spokesperson for the parliamentary commissioner for standards confirmed to DeSmog that Wilkinson had joined Mackinlay’s team in January, though he is not listed in the most recent official register. As parliamentary staff have 28 days to register, Wilkinson will likely feature in the next entry in early March.
Parliamentary records show Wilkinson worked simultaneously as a research assistant to Lord Lawson and as a researcher at the Global Warming Policy Foundation from November 2015 until last June, when Lawson went on leave.
In October 2019 he was promoted to head of policy at GWPF, and is now also head of policy at the newly-launched Net Zero Watch (NZW), run by the campaign wing of the GWPF, the Global Warming Policy Forum.
Shortly after DeSmog approached him for comment, Wilkinson tweeted that he was “pleased to be able to take a position in Craig Mackinlay’s office” and confirmed he would continue working at Net Zero Watch while in the role.
He added that it was an “enormous privilege to work with Lord Lawson, who continues to be an inspiration and has achieved so much in public life”.
Bob Ward said the revelation of Wilkinson’s new post “explains why Mr Mackinlay, Mr Baker and their fellow campaigners against net zero have been parroting the media releases from the lobbying arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
“It should deal a fatal blow to the credibility of the so-called Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which now appears to be just the Parliamentary office of the Foundation,” he told DeSmog.
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, added: “That an organisation so consistently wrong on matters of global significance is now right at the heart of Parliament shows how wrong their supporters are too. Any right-thinking politician who wants not to be wrong should avoid them. And those who don’t, are saying a lot about themselves and their interest in evidence.”
Wilkinson is joining political economist Ruth Lea on Mackinlay’s team. Lea has worked for the South Thanet MP since at least February 2017, according to available records.
The former civil servant and vocal Brexit supporter was a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation from 2019-21. In 2019, Lea wrote a GWPF pamphlet called “Carbon Futility”, in which she called the UK’s net zero target “futile gesture politics” and said the Paris Agreement was “doomed to failure”. She also took aim at UN climate science body the IPCC, describing its “forecasting record” as “poor” and accusing it of “overestimating the degree of global warming”.
In response to a 2020 Met Office report which found that 2019 was the 12th warmest year since 1884, Lea tweeted: “Oh yes, and temperatures fluctuate. Time the climate alarmists cooled down”.
She also dismissed the need for the 2021 COP26 climate summit, telling her Twitter followers to “move on” from “climate change”. In June, she described a Climate Change Committee report warning that the UK was unprepared for climate chaos as “ludicrous scaremongering”.
Lea currently sits on the advisory council of the TaxPayers’ alliance, a group that has frequently opposed government measures to combat climate change and is based at the same Westminster address on Tufton Street as the GWPF.
Lea has served as an economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group since 2007. The private bank’s chair and former CEO Henry Angest is a major donor to the Conservative Party, where he has previously served as treasurer. Angest, a strong supporter of Brexit, has donated to both the Freedom Association, which has promoted climate science denial, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Asked by DeSmog to comment on her links to the Foundation, Lea said: “I have been associated with the GWPF and fully support its aims”. She added that she was “not a climate change denier”.
Lack of Transparency
Wilkinson’s appointment also highlights the need for greater transparency about the GWPF and parliamentary access more generally, said Tom Brake, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy.
“Parliament and the public are entitled to full disclosure about people who have access to Parliament,” Brake told DeSmog.
“Mr Wilkinson is head of policy at the Global Warming Policy Foundation. This foundation is known for its forthright views on climate change and its less than forthright explanations about who funds it. If Mr Wilkinson is going to be pushing their line in parliament, we should know who is behind the GWPF.”
Brake also called for greater transparency in parliament through linking registration and the issuing of a pass. “A simple solution would be to register an individual and issue their pass simultaneously. That way, there will be no time lag between the two – and immediate transparency.”
Mackinlay and the GWPF were approached for comment.
Additional research and reporting by Adam Barnett and Michaela Herrmann.