Tory MP Leading Net Zero Backlash is Linked to Lobbyist With Hidden Fossil Fuel Interest

Eight members of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group endorsed a report by Howard Cox opposing the UK’s phase-out of petrol and diesel cars.
Craig Mackinlay and petrol
Craig Mackinlay MP Credit: PxHere and Official Portrait

The chair of a campaign by backbench Tory MPs against climate action runs a parliamentary group with a lobbyist who has an undeclared interest in the continued use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, DeSmog can reveal. 

Craig Mackinlay runs an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) with Howard Cox, a regular Sun columnist and vocal critic of green transport policies, whose haulage industry-funded FairFuelUK campaign boasts of having kept fuel duty frozen for the past 12 years.

Last summer, 14 parliamentarians, including eight involved in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), endorsed a report produced for the APPG by Cox, which promoted “fuel catalysts” as an alternative to the government’s 2030 petrol and diesel ban. The MPs included former Brexit minister Steve Baker and Mackinlay, who described the report as “ground-breaking”.

But DeSmog can reveal that Cox is director of a company with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels – something he failed to declare in the report. 

The firm, Ultimum, which Cox owns along with former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, markets a “fuel catalyst” it claims can slash emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles. 

Ultimum5 – the product –  appears to have been tested only by a scandal-hit US chemicals giant that until recently manufactured a toxic fuel additive used in leaded petrol, and which has pleaded guilty to bribing officials in Iraq and Cuba. 

Undeclared Interest

Environmental campaigners have called on MPs to reconsider their ties with Cox. Greg Archer of Transport & Environment accuses him of being a “snake-oil salesman” whose campaigning is “biased by his business’s need for cars to keep burning fossil fuels”. 

Cox has denied there is any conflict of interest and said no money had been made from Ultimum5 yet. He accused DeSmog of character assassination and said he believed fossil-fuelled vehicles “have a future if made cleaner.”

It comes after DeSmog revealed that Mackinlay, whose group claims to accept climate science, employs two parliamentary aides linked to the UK’s leading climate science denial body, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). 

Cox worked with the GWPF on the APPG report and has campaigned alongside CAR26, another denial group. He also has a history of rejecting climate science by downplaying the role of what he calls “alleged man-made causes” and questioning whether climate change is linked to extreme weather.

The report from the APPG on Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and Hauliers, which was covered by both the Sun and Express, explicitly called on the government to “investigate thoroughly usage of fuel catalysts/additives proven to cut emissions” as an alternative to electric vehicles.

Cox promoted fuel catalysts on TV channel GB News in an interview with host Nigel Farage about the report, again without declaring his interest in Ultimum5.

When contacted, Cox denied any conflict of interest but informed SourceMaterial, which worked on this investigation with DeSmog, that he was resigning from Ultimum.

Political Ties

Cox’s APPG report carried supportive quotes from 14 parliamentarians, eight of whom are part of the NZSG. Along with Baker and Mackinlay, these include Conservative MPs Philip Davies, Julian Knight, Andrew Bridgen and Sir Greg Knight, and Tory peer Peter Lilley

The NZSG, which was formed last year, made its first public intervention in January with a joint letter in the Sunday Telegraph calling for the scrapping of green levies on energy, more North Sea drilling, and the return of fracking. The letter was the first published list of the group’s members, and named 19 MPs and Lilley. 

NZSG member Robert Halfon is vice chair of the Fair Fuel APPG and a long-standing ally of Cox but did not endorse the report. 

However in 2019, Halfon used a question in parliament to ask the then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to meet him and Cox to discuss fuel catalysts, describing them as an “immediate and highly effective way to reduce emissions in urban areas”.

Ultimum was incorporated as a company two months later, according to official records.

Halfon was also previously quoted on the Ultimum5 website homepage. In a quote, since deleted (but archived here), he called on the government to “seriously consider” fuel catalysts, arguing that they help reduce fuel consumption and meet climate targets, and describing them as a “viable, cost-saving option for motorists and the Treasury”. NZSG member Julian Knight is also in the Fair Fuel APPG.

Halfon, who promoted FairFuel in a Conservative Home article last month, denied having any interest in Ultimum. A spokesperson from his office told  DeSmog: “Robert has no shares in this, or any other company in a related business. He has consistently campaigned on behalf of constituents and motorists throughout the UK against further rises in fuel or tax duty.”

‘Business Bias’

Greg Archer, UK Director of green organisation Transport & Environment, said: “MPs that have been supporting FairFuelUK through its All-Party Parliamentary Group should reconsider their association. 

“Mr Cox’s personal business interests are clearly skewing the climate sceptic, anti-electric car stance of the group. Everything he and FairFuelUK claim is biased by his business’s need for cars to keep burning fossil fuels.”

When contacted, Cox told DeSmog he was motivated to find “practical ways” for drivers to cut emissions from their petrol and diesel vehicles, which he believed could still have a future.

The FairFuel network has several ties to the climate science-denying GWPF think tank, which contributed to Cox’s APPG report. Mackinlay has said his NZSG will use GWPF research in its campaigning. Baker is a GWPF trustee and Lord Lilley is a former trustee. 

One of Mackinlay’s parliamentary aides, Harry Wilkinson, is the GWPF’s head of policy, and another, Ruth Lea, is a former GWPF trustee. Baker and Lilley attended GWPF’s annual lecture in November. 

In October, the Guardian reported that Halfon received £2,000 in 2019 from Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, one of the GWPF’s few known donors.   

In January, Cox attended two events hosted by CAR26, a new climate science denial group whose director Lois Perry says the climate crisis is a “con” designed by “elites” to make people poor and hungry. At one of those events, Cox admitted he used a “loaded” question in an online survey, recently covered by the Sun, that supposedly showed public opposition to the petrol and diesel ban and other government climate policies. 

Last year, FairFuel co-founder Quentin Willson, a former Top Gear presenter, abandoned the group, accusing it of peddling “old urban myths” about electric vehicles.

MP Responses

Baker and Mackinlay did not respond when contacted for comment. Fellow Ultimum director Lembit Opik – who last year said on GB News that he does not think there is a “climate emergency” – declined to comment. 

Two MPs appeared to distance themselves from Cox, when approached for comment on their supportive quotes in the APPG report.

Sir John Redwood told DeSmog: “I did not endorse or agree with the whole report.” 

Sir John Hayes, a former transport minister who, since 2018, has received £50,000 working as a strategic adviser to oil trading company BB Energy, told DeSmog: “I stand by my remarks. I can’t comment on [Cox]. I’m not involved in any of that.

“I don’t know where they got that quote from. I have no knowledge of or connection with the person you’ve mentioned”, he said, referring to Cox. 

No other MPs on the Fair Fuel APPG, or those quoted in its report last summer, responded to a request for comment.

The news comes as the Commons Standards Committee is currently holding two inquiries related to lobbying: one looking into the MPs’ Code of Conduct, and another probe, launched in October, looking into All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs). 

Convicted Testing Company

Tests on the fuel catalyst, Ultimum5, were carried out by Innospec, a US-headquartered chemicals company that has been embroiled in multiple bribery scandals. 

In 2010, it pleaded guilty in the US to defrauding the United Nations by paying “kickbacks” to the former Iraqi government under the Oil-for-Food Programme. It also admitted to bribing officials in the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

The same year, the company separately admitted to making multi-million dollar bribes to officials in Iraq and Indonesia to allow the sale of Tetraethyl lead (TEL), a toxic fuel additive that has long been banned in western countries after being linked to brain damage in children. Three executives at Octel, as the company was known at the time, were jailed in 2014 for their roles in the bribery. 

No other testing of Ultimum5, which is manufactured by Yorkshire-based Molescroft Management, is understood to have taken place. Innospec did not respond when contacted for comment. 

In his GB News interview last summer, Cox said: “There are catalysts available now, you can put them into petrol and diesel now, [and it] reduces emissions by 50 percent.”

Yet a brochure for Ultimum, claims the additive can cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by between 22 and 94 percent, but carbon emissions by only a maximum of 11 percent. The online pamphlet, accessed on 1 March, also includes an old photo of Cox meeting Boris Johnson.

Transport & Environment’s Greg Archer told DeSmog fuel catalysts “typically fail to achieve their marketing hype but pollute the air with toxic metals”.

MPs ‘Aware of My Involvement’

When contacted by DeSmog, Cox said two MPs involved with the APPG report, either as members of the APPG or providers of supportive quotes, were aware of his interest in Ultimum when the report was published. He said: “It’s on the record with two MPs fully aware of my involvement with U5 [Ultimum5] and investigation of practical ways and attempts to help drivers lower emissions.” However, he refused to name the two MPs. 

Cox said he purchased Ultimum when the previous owners, who he identified as Opti-Diesel, were “struggling to find investment”, and that it was Opti-Diesel that had Innospec test the product. 

Opti-Diesel’s website refers to an Opti Global Resources, of which Howard Cox is a director, along with three Ultimum shareholders, John Dowling, Steven Wells and James Ferguson. DeSmog was unable to contact Opti-Diesel or Opti Global Resources for comment. 

“We have been looking for the best products to reduce emissions now and not wait for 2030”, said Cox. “FairFuelUK has investigated more than a dozen ‘claimed to be effective’ ways to reduce emissions. Most are fuel catalysts, hence the recommendation in the report.” He said Ultimum5 “stood out from the crowd”.  

“As the owners were struggling to find investment, I decided to see if I could move the product forward and get involved. No money has been made, only a hell of a lot of costs.”

The Ultimum5 website claims “the components of Ultimum5 are fully REACH compliant”, referring to the EU standard for chemical products. Neither Ultimum nor Opt-Diesel appear in the REACH database. Cox told DeSmog “the Reach compliance does apply to Opti-Diesel and its chemical formulation”.

When quizzed, Cox appeared to downplay his product, in contrast to his previous statements and online information. He said: “Ultimum5 is not available here yet and is still under test around the world. If the new tests in ships, trucks and cars are not successful the product will not be made available.” He added that “we are seeing emissions being slashed in early feedback”.

Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Rich was the UK team's Deputy Editor from 2020-22 and an Associate Editor until September 2023. He joined the organisation in 2018 as a UK-focused investigative reporter, having previously worked for the climate charity Operation Noah.

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