The Reform UK candidate for London mayor has been accused of ignoring science after joining a rally organised by conspiracy theorists who say green policies are a plot to impose “climate lockdowns”.
Howard Cox, director of the FairFuelUK lobby group against charges on motorists, attended Saturday’s protest in Trafalgar Square against London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) expansion, which has been seized on by opponents of climate action.
Cox, who is running in May’s election for the anti-net zero party, used the rally to attack the science behind ULEZ and electric vehicles.
The protest was organised by Action Against ULEZ Extension, a Facebook group with 46,000 members. DeSmog revealed in September that the group’s administrators claim governments are using green policies to impose Covid-style lockdowns – a popular idea among conspiracy theorists.
At Saturday’s protest, attended by around 300 people, demonstrators held placards which read “stop ULEZ and the war on the motorist”, “honk if you hate ULEZ”, and “stop the toxic air lie”.
Earlier this month, Cox met with Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho, who praised his campaigning on petrol prices, despite his standing for a rival party.
Reform UK wants to “scrap net zero” and is partly funded by climate deniers and fossil fuel interests. The party is polling between nine and 13 percent, prompting Conservatives including net zero critic Lord Frost to argue that the Tories must move further right.
This is the second time Cox has joined one of the group’s anti-ULEZ protests, following a September rally also attended by Reform leaders Richard Tice and Nigel Farage. Cox has publicly denied climate science, saying in November: “It is arrogant to think that we, as human beings, can make any difference to this planet.”
Zoë Garbett, the Green Party’s London mayoral candidate, told DeSmog: “Howard Cox is choosing to ignore science and push false narratives for the benefit of his own political career.
“Meanwhile residents who don’t have access to a car, who are the majority in many parts of London, are being forced to breathe dirty air.”
Chris Todd, director of the Transport Action Network, said: “Let’s be clear, people opposed to the London ULEZ are against cleaner air. They offer no solutions and don’t seem to care that people’s health is suffering from toxic pollution.
“This is also true with climate change”, he added. “The public are not stupid, and for these extremists to pretend that climate change doesn’t exist isn’t fooling the majority.”
Cox at ULEZ Protest
Politicians have used ULEZ to justify slowing down on climate action, arguing that such policies are unpopular with the public. The zone’s expansion – from inner London to all boroughs last summer – was said to have been decisive in July’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak referenced when watering down a number of net zero policies in September.
At the protest on Saturday, Cox – who admitted that his own vehicle was ULEZ-compliant – reportedly claimed that “science proves we don’t need” ULEZ.
City Hall has said the original ULEZ covering inner London had reduced harmful air pollution by 46 percent. A progress report in September found that the expanded scheme had reduced the number of non-compliant cars on the road by nearly half (45 percent), with nearly 95 percent of cars now compliant.
At Saturday’s protest, Cox also told a PA reporter: “Electric vehicles are even more expensive. They’re not necessarily as green as people think from cradle-to-grave production.”
Cox’s statement echoes a common myth about electric vehicles – which produce fewer carbon emissions and are more cost efficient over their lifetime than fossil fuel vehicles.
Cox has been a fierce opponent of electric vehicles, and pushed for a delay to the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – a policy adopted by the government in September.
Transport is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the UK, making up 26 percent of all emissions in 2021.
Matt Finch, UK policy manager at environmental non-profit Transport & Environment, said Cox and his fellow protesters had exhibited a “love of noisy roads” and an aversion to “cheap running costs”.
“Electric vehicles are quieter and cheaper than their polluting equivalents,” he told DesSmog, “so it really is amazing that some people are still opposed to them.”
‘Climate Lockdown’ Group
Schemes to tackle vehicle emissions and pollution have been seized on by climate deniers and conspiracy theorists since the Covid-19 pandemic and used as proof of a global conspiracy to curb people’s freedoms.
In 2022, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate science body, warned of false and misleading information which “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency” of cutting emissions.
As DeSmog reported in September, Facebook posts by Action Against ULEZ Extension’s leaders promoted the “climate lockdown” conspiracy theory, including the idea that 15 minute cities, an urban planning scheme for close amenities, would create “open prisons”.
The group’s administrators have also spread climate science denial. Last July, spokesperson Nick Arlett posted: “What is the similarity between God and man made climate change[?] You can’t prove the existence of either.”
Łukasz Janulewicz, senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank, which tracks misinformation, told DeSmog the ‘climate lockdown’ conspiracy theory was “preying on genuine trauma and concerns about government overreach during the pandemic”.
He said that since the pandemic, groups have used polices like 15 minute cities to stoke fears that “global elites [are] seeking to exert control and impose surveillance” on the general public.
Cox did not respond when contacted for comment. He did not answer DeSmog’s question on whether he shares the views of Action Against ULEZ Extension.
“Climate misinformation and conspiracy theories sow division, spread confusion, and make genuine debate more difficult”, said Richard Wilson, director of the campaign Stop Funding Heat.
“At a time when misinformation is flooding our public discourse – and undermining our democracy – it’s incumbent on everyone to avoid aligning themselves with such toxic ideas.”
Action Against ULEZ Extension, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the London Mayor’s office have been contacted for comment.