Steve Baker, the powerful backbench MP and fierce critic of government policies to cut emissions, has been handed a ministerial role in Liz Truss’s new Conservative government.
Baker reportedly accused campaigners of “child abuse” for “terrifying children” with warnings about climate change at a meeting in parliament earlier in the summer.
His appointment has been criticised amid concern about the direction Truss plans to take the UK on environmental issues, including her plans to lift a ban on fracking and expand drilling for North Sea oil and gas.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrats’ climate change spokesperson, said it was worrying to have “such a blatant climate sceptic” in government.
“This, combined with Liz Truss‘s decision to end the ban on fracking says everything you need to know about her climate change commitments.
“We need strong political leadership on climate change and filling the government with climate sceptics is the antithesis to this.”
The hardline Brexit backer will be serving as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office at a time when relations are fraught over post-EU trade arrangements.
Baker’s appointment was announced on Wednesday and he today stepped down from his role as a trustee at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most influential climate science denial think-tank.
Arch Climate Policy Critic
Baker has mounted a public campaign against the UK’s efforts to reach net zero by 2050 in recent months, alongside fellow Tory MP Craig Mackinlay and others in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG). The NZSG and GWPF have worked closely together on the campaign.
Baker, a former Brexit minister, returns to government after more than four years on the backbenches.
The GWPF has been the leading force opposing environmental action in the UK since former Chancellor and Conservative peer Nigel Lawson set up the group in 2009.
Baker has promoted the think-tank’s work since becoming a trustee last year, including a paper claiming that there was “no evidence of a climate crisis”.
The GWPF earlier this year called for renewable energy to be “wound down” at a time of record-high gas prices.
Truss’s moves to lift the fracking ban and expand oil and gas drilling since becoming prime minister on Tuesday align with the group’s recommendations.
Truss criticised many of the government’s green policies during the party leadership race, calling solar farms “depressing” and claiming gas was a “very important transition fuel”.
The former foreign secretary has faced scrutiny over the years for her ties to opaquely-funded think-tanks and lobby groups that have spread doubt about climate science and opposed government efforts to cut emissions.
Truss caused alarm among climate campaigners this week by appointing Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has a history of dismissing climate change, as her business and energy secretary.
Ties to Anti-Regulation Groups
In July, Baker relaunched a Thatcherite pressure group with financial support from the chair of the GWPF’s campaign wing, raising fears that the organisation will serve as a new hub of opposition to green policies.
Conservative Way Forward (CWF) published a pamphlet ahead of the relaunch calling for wide-ranging tax cuts, including a reduction in VAT on fuel and the suspension of “green levies” on energy bills, used to fund renewable energy projects among other measures.
Many of CWF’s recommendations match policies advocated by Truss during her leadership campaign and announced since her election.
Baker received a £5,000 donation from Neil Record, chair of the GWPF’s campaign wing, earlier this year, with official records stating that this would be used to fund Baker’s relaunch of CWF.
Record also chairs the Institute of Economic Affairs, a BP-funded free-market think-tank close to Truss that has a long history of criticising environmental policies and backing fossil fuels.
Baker helped run former Attorney General Suella Braverman’s bid to become Tory leader, before swinging behind Truss. Braverman, who was appointed home secretary this week, vowed to “suspend” the UK’s net zero target during the campaign.
Neither Baker nor the Northern Ireland Office responded to a request for comment.