Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey Gifted £2,500 Gala Ticket by Fossil Fuel Firm

North Sea oil and gas firm Viaro Energy hosted the politician at an exclusive charity fundraiser in February.
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Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, accepted a donation worth £2,500 from Viaro Energy, which drills for oil and gas in the North Sea, parliamentary records reveal.

The donation took the form of a seat at Viaro’s table at the exclusive London’s Air Ambulance Charity gala on February 7th.

Viaro Energy operates over 30 oil and gas drilling operations in UK oil fields, where it began operations in 2020.

The annual fundraiser, which took place at Raffles London, was also sponsored by the Hinduja Group among others, a multinational Indian conglomerate with companies across the oil sector.

Other guests included Prince William, actor Tom Cruise, Arsenal FC manager Mikael Arteta, and the band Sister Sledge, who performed at the event. 

Davey, who has led the Liberal Democrats since 2020, has repeatedly campaigned against the opening of new oil and gas operations in the UK, recently arguing that the UK should “get out of gas as quickly as possible”. He has also criticised plans to open up the controversial Rosebank oil field, which the government approved in September last year.

The donation comes on the heels of the Conservative government issuing hundreds of new oil and gas licences in 2023, and writing annual licensing rounds into law.

“It’s morally dubious of Ed Davey – and all politicians today –to accept hospitality from an industry that is driving the climate crisis and profiteering while millions in the UK can’t afford to properly heat their homes,” Lauren MacDonald, a campaigner for Stop Rosebank, told DeSmog.  

“There are other, better ways to support charities like the London’s Air Ambulance.”

Robert Noyes, a campaigner at Fossil Free Parliament warned against “cosy dinners and the easy access they buy”. He told DeSmog: “What the fossil fuel lobby wants, the fossil fuel lobby gets.”

A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said: “Ed is fully committed to a just transition away from our reliance on oil and gas. Ed and the Liberal Democrats are also committed to net zero by 2045 – engaging with organisations active in the North Sea is critical to achieving that goal.”

Viaro told DeSmog that the company donated a total of £25,000 to the charity gala, a sum that included Ed Davey’s invite. Other guests at Davey’s table included an energy financier from investment bank Jefferies and a senior partner at HitecVision, a Norwegian private equity group with multiple investments in the oil and gas industry.

“No monetary donation was made to Sir Davey or the Liberal Democrats directly,” a spokesperson for Viaro Energy said, adding that the invitation was extended “as a gesture of respect” and “not with the intention to promote any oil and gas agenda”.

North Sea Interests

A relative newcomer to North Sea oil and gas, Viaro Energy began drilling following its acquisition of RockRose Energy in 2020, the year after the UK parliament declared a climate emergency.

The company says that 70 per cent of its investments are in natural gas operations. On its website it states that it produces an annual 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the North Sea and has set a “near term target” of 100,000 barrels per day.

Offshore gas fields worldwide are major sources of emissions of methane, a powerful, short-lived greenhouse gas. The International Energy Agency and UN agencies have said urgent cuts to methane are essential to meeting climate targets, and have warned that new fossil fuel exploration is incompatible with a 1.5 degree-warmed world. 

In 2024, Viaro expanded its operations, including a new licence with EnQuest to explore the Bressay oil field, an island on Shetland’s east side, and gained 100 percent of the West Shetland exploration licence. Viaro aims “to support life extension initiatives for mature gas assets in the North Sea” and “to continue producing gas in the decades to come.” 

Viaro’s ESG strategy includes making charitable donations. It  recently registered a charity foundation, the SRM Foundation, to the company’s headquarters. The company has previously made donations to the Ochil Ultra Marathon, and When You Wish Upon a Star.

In a statement to DeSmog, the company said: “Viaro sees these kinds of donations as a meaningful way to give back to the community. We reiterate that London’s Air Ambulance is a respectable charitable organisation doing important work, whose main patron is the Prince of Wales, so it would be entirely baseless to suggest any impropriety with regard to this donation.”

London’s Air Ambulance Charity (LAAC) told DeSmog that Viaro Energy “went through an Ethical Screening process” in line with LAA’s donations policy, adding that “as part of their sponsorship, they invited their own guests to the event.” The Charity Gala raised £1.2 million for the capital’s air ambulance service.

A press release from RockRose, a subsidiary of the Viaro Group that also attended the event, stated that Viaro are “proud to” have “previously donated to the London’s Air Ambulance Charity’s work.” 

Lib Dems on Oil and Gas

The donation is somewhat of an anomaly for the Liberal Democrat party, which does not have a track record of taking money from fossil fuel companies. In the past five years, the party has not taken any donations from oil and gas companies, according to the electoral register.

Individuals with fossil fuel investments are known to have made sizeable donations to the party, but this pales in comparison with the sums accepted by the Conservative Party, which, DeSmog revealed, received  £3.5 million from polluting interests in 2022.

The Liberal Democrats’ climate policy is generally progressive, and the party committed in 2019 to achieving net-zero by 2045.

In early 2023, the party called for a one-off ‘Bonanza Tax’ on oil and gas executives, following the huge profits made by oil and gas companies in 2022 and 2023.

The Liberal Democrats have also proposed banning new listings of fossil fuels from the London Stock Exchange. Davey said at the time of the announcement in 2019: “If you’re going to really take on climate change you’ve got to get that private capital to switch from dirty into clean,” 

Some Liberal Democrat party members have links to oil and gas companies. As DeSmog reported in 2021, the Liberal Democrats selected Conrad Wood, a former employee of Rockrose Energy, as their parliamentary candidate for the constituency in Gordon and Buchanan, Aberdeenshire, where he is actively campaigning ahead of the upcoming general election.

“Elected representatives like Ed Davey have a decision to make,” Robert Noyes, from Fossil Free Parliament told DeSmog.“Do they stand on the side of climate justice or the side of climate collapse? Fossil fuel firms have no place in our politics, however tasty the food at their gala dinner tables.”.”

Additional reporting by Adam Barnett and Diyora Shadijanova

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Joey Grostern is a climate reporter and researcher at DeSmog since April 2023. His work focuses on news media and has been covered by The Guardian, The Intercept, and The Nation. He also works freelance for Deutsche Welle in Berlin.

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