Mapped: How the Net Zero Backlash is Tied to Climate Denial – and Brexit

The ties between anti-green politicians, climate denial groups and the backers of “hard” Brexit are extensive.
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NZSG image final
From left: Steve Baker MP, Nigel Farage, Lord Nigel Lawson, and Craig Mackinlay MP. Credit: DeSmog via Wikicommons

“Go for gas with all the vigour of a national war effort…” That was the take from Steve Baker on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Baker, the leading light of the backbench Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), has seized on the war to push for the UK’s ban on fracking to be scrapped. 

Ukraine is just their latest tactic. A few weeks ago it was the cost-of-living crisis, which they tried to pin on green policies. The NZSG has been active in influencing the climate debate, gaining widespread media coverage and some support from former ministers. 

But these MPs have faced little “scrutiny” themselves. While they cloak their demands for more fossil fuel extraction in concern for their constituents’ household bills, the MPs have strong ties to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s leading producer of climate science denial and misinformation.

The NZSG has roots in the libertarian network behind the push for a “hard” Brexit, including the European Research Group (ERG), which Baker chaired. Many of the same politicians, think tanks and donors that backed Brexit are deeply involved in opposing climate action. Nigel Farage recently joined the fray with his campaign for a “net zero referendum”, an effort steeped in climate science denial. 

The recent IPCC report noted the dangers of this misinformation, which it said  “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency”, at a time when there is “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”. 

There is much to debate about climate action, but a serious discussion of the best route to net zero is impossible when public discourse is hijacked by ideologues and vested interests. The evidence is clear that, despite its claims, the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs is allied with climate science deniers. 

Below we bring together all the evidence about the NZSG in one place, with an interactive map and a new profile on the group in our climate disinformation database. We hope these resources help to inform media coverage of the NZSG and provide useful context about their campaigning.

Zoom in and click on the circles/lines to find out more about the individuals and groups involved.

New Group on the Block

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) was set up last year with the help of former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who has led backbench campaigns in favour of Brexit and against Covid restrictions. The group is chaired by South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, and was formed around the time the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s campaigning wing, the Global Warming Policy Forum, rebranded itself as the similarly-named Net Zero Watch

The group publicly launched in January with a letter to the Sunday Telegraph calling on the government to scrap green levies on energy bills, expand North Sea oil and gas exploration and support “shale gas extraction”, known as fracking, which the UK effectively banned in 2019. 

The signatories to this letter amounted to the first published list of NZSG members, and named 19 MPs and one Lord. This was less than half the “north of 50 MPs” Mackinlay had claimed in November. 

The group penned a second letter in February, this time to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for the fracking ban to be lifted, according to the Telegraph. The 29 signatories to this letter were not published, but reportedly included Lord David Frost, and MPs John Whittingdale and Bob Blackman. 

Another letter, published in the Daily Mail in March, that argues the war in Ukraine means the UK should overturn the fracking ban, is claimed to have been signed by 34 MPs and five members of the House of Lords, though again no list of names was provided. 

DeSmog is taking the 20 signatories of the initial letter as NZSG “members”, with these extra names as “satellites”, though the group might be a loose association of people signing letters ad hoc, organised by a core team of leaders.

Global Warming Policy Foundation Links

The NZSG claims to accept climate science. But the group has a number of strong institutional links with the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most prominent climate science denial organisation. 

The MP group’s ties to the GWPF are extensive. In August 2021, NZSG chair Craig Mackinlay told Bloomberg that his new parliamentary group would use GWPF research for its campaigning. Meanwhile, two NZSG members are current or former trustees of the GWPF: Steve Baker MP joined the GWPF as a trustee in May 2021, and NZSG member Lord Peter Lilley is a former GWPF trustee.

This month DeSmog reported that Steve Baker recently received £5,000 from Neil Record, chair of the Global Warming Policy Forum, the GWPF’s campaigning wing, now known as Net Zero Watch. 

Baker and Lilley attended the GWPF’s annual lecture in November, where US professor Steve Koonin questioned the scientific consensus on the climate crisis.

GWPF figures are also employed by the NZSG chair. Last month, DeSmog revealed that two of Mackinlay’s parliamentary aides have current or former roles at the GWPF: Harry Wilkinson, the GWPF’s head of policy, and Ruth Lea, a former GWPF trustee. 

Wilkinson joined Mackinlay’s team in January after spending years working as research assistant to Lord Nigel Lawson, GWPF founder and board member, and perhaps the UK’s most famous and long-term climate science denier. 

In November, during the UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Lawson wrote in a Spectator article that “global warming is not a problem”. In the piece he also defended the burning of fossil fuels and said carbon dioxide’s “principal effect” is the growth of plants. 

Ruth Lea has worked for Mackinlay since February 2017, and in 2019 wrote a GWPF pamphlet called “Carbon Futility”, in which she called the UK’s net zero target “futile gesture politics” and accused the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of “overestimating the degree of global warming”. 

NZSG members have also received donations from funders linked to the GWPF. Robert Halfon received £2,000 in 2019 from Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, one of the GWPF’s few known donors. Hintze also donated £2,500 to NZSG MP Andrew Lewer’s seat of Northamptonshire South in 2019. Lewer also received a £500 ticket to the Conservative Party’s Black and White Ball from Hintze in October 2019.

Baker wrote an article to coincide with the Global Warming Policy Forum’s rebranding as Net Zero Watch in October 2021. 

Beyond this, NZSG MPs have themselves spread climate science misinformation. Steve Baker, speaking at Conservative Party conference in October, said that much of climate science is “contestable” and “sometimes propagandised”, and claimed some UN climate scenarios were “implausible”.

Pro-Fossil Fuel Agenda

On top of these connections, the NZSG’s policy agenda tracks very closely with the long-standing key demands of the GWPF. These include: scrapping green levies on energy, more North Sea drilling and the return of fracking. 

The first NZSG letter urged the government to remove the five percent VAT charged on domestic energy bills, plus “environmental levies on domestic energy” and to scrap the Climate Change Levy on businesses. It warns that  the UK is reliant on imported energy from hostile governments, adding: “This leads to the inescapable conclusion of the need to expand North Sea exploration and for shale gas extraction to be supported.”

The GWPF’s list of key demands include a call to “suspend all green levies on energy bills” and “remove all fiscal and other disincentives to oil and gas exploration, including shale gas, to increase domestic production levels”. The demands were restated via the GWPF’s Net Zero Watch (NZW) rebrand in a press release a few days before the publication of the Sunday Telegraph letter, which NZW has since promoted on social media. 

Baker and Mackinlay’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – to claim it strengthens the case for fracking in the UK – also also echoes Net Zero Watch’s talking points. In February, NZW director Benny Peiser wrote that the government’s fracking ban was “incentivising Putin’s energy wars and has become a major disaster for national security”.

FairFuelUK and CAR26

The GWPF is not the only climate science denial group Net Zero Scrutiny MPs are connected with. Mackinlay is also chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and Hauliers, whose public enquiry point, motoring lobbyist Howard Cox, has a history of rejecting climate science and is working increasingly closely with a new denial group called CAR26

Cox is founder of the haulage industry-funded FairFuelUK campaign, which boasts of having kept fuel duty frozen for the past 12 years. Eight members of the NZSG – Mackinlay, Baker, Julian Knight, Andrew Bridgen, Karl McCartney, Philip Davies, Andrew Lewer, and Lord Peter Lilley – gave supportive quotes in a report Cox produced for the APPG last summer that opposed the UK’s 2030 petrol and diesel ban. The GWPF also contributed to the report.

DeSmog recently revealed that Cox failed to declare in his APPG report that he is director of a company that makes the sort of “fuel catalyst” his report promoted as an alternative way to cut CO2 emissions, and therefore has an interest in the survival of fossil fuel-powered cars.

Cox has a history of rejecting climate science. He has downplayed the role of what he calls “alleged man-made causes” and questioned whether climate change is linked to extreme weather. Cox recently spoke on two panels hosted by CAR26, which launched its campaign for a public referendum on the UK’s net zero target with a poll just before COP26. 

CAR26 questions whether carbon dioxide is a “significant factor in global warming” and suggests teaching children about the dangers of climate change is “borderline child abuse”. CAR26 director Lois Perry has said the climate crisis is a “con” designed by “elites” to make people poor and hungry. 

Brexit and Anti-Net Zero Politics

The NZSG campaign has grown out of the network of groups behind the push for a “hard” Brexit. Steve Baker has explicitly compared the NZSG to the European Research Group (ERG), which he chaired. The ERG was originally chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, now a minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, before being relaunched by Baker in 2016. Rees-Mogg has reportedly urged the Prime Minister to end the UK’s fracking moratorium. 

In total, nine members – nearly half – of the NZSG were also members of the ERG: Steve Baker, Craig Mackinlay, Julian Knight, Andrew Bridgen, David Jones, Damien Moore, Andrew Lewer, Marcus Fysh, and Philip Davies. The ERG has been described as a “party within a party” and secretly provided its members with “research support”. Baker was accused of maintaining links with the ERG after becoming Brexit minister in 2017, which would have broken the ministerial code.  

Ahead of the EU referendum in 2016, GWPF founder Lord Nigel Lawson was made an interim chair of the official Brexit campaign, Vote Leave, which was led by Boris Johnson and run by Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott.

NZSG chair Craig Mackinlay is a former leader of UKIP, heading the party from 1997 to 2000 before he defected to the Conservative Party in 2005. 

The NZSG also has ties to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), an influential pro-Brexit libertarian think tank with a record of opposing government climate policy. Net Zero Watch chair Neil Record, who donated £5,000 to Baker this year, also chairs the IEA. In January 2020, Baker’s constituency Conservative Party received £3,000 from IEA trustee Bruno Prior. 

At an IEA event at last year’s Conservative Party conference hosted by its director-general Mark Littlewood, Baker said much climate science is “contestable” and “sometimes propagandised”. A 2018 Greenpeace Unearthed investigation revealed that the IEA had taken funding from British oil company BP every year since 1967. 

Littlewood has described the UK government’s climate policies as too expensive and ineffective and its head of policy Matthew Lesh has likened the government’s green policies to a “Soviet Five Year Plan”. Lord Nigel Vinson, a “life vice president” of the IEA, is one of the few known donors to the GWPF. 

In 2020, the new Centre for Brexit Policy (CBP) think tank was set up by Owen Paterson MP, who resigned from the House of Commons in November after a high-profile lobbying scandal. Its policy fellows include John Constable, energy editor of both the GWPF and Net Zero Watch, and former GWPF trustee Ruth Lea, who is currently a parliamentary aide to NZSG chair Craig Mackinlay. The CBP has promoted the work of Matt Ridley, a climate sceptic and GWPF advisor

Nigel Farage and the ‘Net Zero Referendum’

Nigel Farage has taken up the NZSG’s effort to use Brexit-style populist tactics to block climate action. The GB News host and former UKIP leader recently launched a campaign for a referendum on the UK’s net zero policies.  

Farage is running his referendum campaign with Richard Tice, a millionaire property developer who helped fund Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign headed by Aaron Banks. Tice also funded Farage’s Brexit campaign, Grassroots Out. Tice currently leads Reform UK, a successor to Farage’s Brexit Party. 

From 2016 to 2020, Farage’s “Leave Means Leave” campaign to push for a hard Brexit was based at 55 Tufton Street in London, home to the GWPF and a network of libertarian groups. Rather than drum up a new following, the “Leave Means Leave” Twitter account, which had 79,000 followers, has simply been renamed “Vote Power, Not Poverty” and is now being used for Farage’s net zero referendum campaign.

Speakers listed for a “Vote Power, Not Poverty” rally planned for 26 March include John Longworth, a former director of Leave Means Leave and an advisor to the IEA, and Graham Stringer, a pro-Brexit Labour MP and GWPF trustee. In a 2021 article, Longworth said the UK government’s net zero policies were a “quasi-religious pursuit” based on “quack science”, and complained that people are “obsessed with a one degree increase in global temperature”. 

Farage and Tice have long opposed climate action. Under Farage, UKIP’s 2015 and 2017 general election manifestos pledged to rip up green measures, repeal the UK’s Climate Change Act, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and support fracking. 

In 2020, Farage said Reform UK would run candidates against “any and every” politician who backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution”. The same year, Farage used his show on LBC to claim that global population growth was a greater threat than CO2 emissions. 

Richard Tice appears to have joined forces with CAR26, the originator of the net zero referendum idea, speaking on a panel organised by the group on 10 February. He claimed politicians were trying to make money out of what he called the “green agenda”. On 6 March, Tice tweeted that “climate change happened for last million years & next million years. Multiple periods of warming then cooling”.

CAR26 originally stated on its website that it was “powered by Blue Sky”, a communications firm run by a group of former Brexit campaigners, according to openDemocracy.

You can explore our profiles of climate science deniers in DeSmog’s Climate Disinformation Database.

Mapped: How the Net Zero Backlash is Tied to Climate Denial – and Brexit
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Mapped: How the Net Zero Backlash is Tied to Climate Denial – and Brexit
Michaela is Database Researcher at DeSmog. She joined DeSmog in June 2021, having previously worked as a freelance researcher and as a podcast producer for the US Centre at the London School of Economics.

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