Net Zero Scrutiny Group

Background

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) is made up of backbench Conservative MPs, including former government ministers, and opposes many of the government’s net zero policies. The NZSG was formed in 2021 ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit, hosted by the UK in Glasgow, Scotland, and publicly launched in January 2022.

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 NZSG is led by chair Craig Mackinlay and founder Steve Baker

Mackinlay, who employs the GWPF’s head of policy Harry Wilkinson as a parliamentary aide, has said that the government should “pause for breath before running further and faster to a net-zero electoral disaster based upon uncosted fairytales”.1GWPF calls for pause and rethink of unaffordable Net Zero plans,” Global Warming Policy Forum, August 6, 2021. Archived January 31, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/pfMcB 

Baker has been a trustee of the GWPF since May 2021. He is a vocal critic of the government’s net zero policies, telling Sky News in a January 2022 interview that he “genuinely believe[s] that when the full costs of net zero start hitting us, if people have never been given a choice at the ballot box, we could end up with something bigger than the poll tax, certainly bigger than Brexit, because the numbers of people hit by it and their inability to cope will be huge”.2Hannah Thomas-Peter. “Net zero targets could cause more unrest and division than Brexit, Tory MP warns,” Sky News, January 21, 2022. Archived January 21, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Tm1Py 

In August 2021, Mackinlay indicated that the Net Zero Scrutiny Group would use research by the GWPF in its campaign.3Jess Shankleman and Alex Morales. “Boris Johnson’s Ambition for Climate Deal Hit by Tory Party Infighting,” Bloomberg, August 5, 2021. Archived December 11, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gyeWY 

NZSG members also have close ties to the Brexit-backing Conservative parliamentary group the European Research Group (ERG); the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA); and anti-fuel duty lobbying group FairFuelUK.

In January 2022, 20 NZSG members wrote a letter to the Telegraph calling for prime minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to lessen the impact of inflation and “cost-of-living pressures” by removing VAT and environmental levies on domestic energy.4Letters: It’s time to overhaul the testing regime and get Britain moving again,” The Telegraph, January 2, 2022. Archived February 11, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/LaeNS 

The letter, which was the first major media intervention by the NZSG, claimed that the “Climate Change Levy on business energy use” was “making UK energy-intensive businesses uncompetitive” and called for a “new approach to our energy security,” meaning increased North Sea exploration for oil and gas and support for fracking.5Letters: It’s time to overhaul the testing regime and get Britain moving again,” The Telegraph, January 2, 2022. Archived February 11, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/LaeNS

In February 2022, the Telegraph reported that 29 MPs and one Conservative peer had written a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to end the “unconservative” ban on fracking in the UK, which has been in place since 2019.6Edward Malnick. “Tory grandees urge Boris Johnson to lift ‘unconservative’ ban on fracking,” The Telegraph, February 12, 2022. Archived February 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JsAdK 

The letter was organised by Mackinlay and Baker and reportedly signed by NZSG members including Julian Knight, as well as former Brexit Minister David Frost.7Edward Malnick. “Tory grandees urge Boris Johnson to lift ‘unconservative’ ban on fracking,” The Telegraph, February 12, 2022. Archived February 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JsAdK  The Guardian reported that Mackinlay and Baker declined to share the names of other signatories.8Peter Walker. “David Frost joins Tory MPs in calls for return of fracking in UK,” The Guardian, February 13, 2022. Archived February 21, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/DD4nQ 

Stance on Climate Change

While the NZSG reportedly accepts the “fundamental facts” of climate change and the need to reduce emissions, the group argues that the government’s plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 are too rapid and expensive.9Helena Horton and Matthew Taylor. “‘It’s all a bit cynical’: the politicians behind the Tory attack on net zero agenda,” The Guardian, February 8, 2022. Archived February 21, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FWNeK 10Anushka Asthana. “Tory backbenchers prepare to fight cost of net zero greenhouse gas emissions,” ITV News, July 31, 2021. Archived February 19, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9Y2rQ 

NZSG chair Craig Mackinlay was quoted in The Times in August 2021 saying: “I am not a climate-change denier. I’m concerned that our electors of the future will be huddling round their heat-pump radiators and paying off the debt on an electric vehicle they never wanted either as they look wistfully at China, Indonesia and other nations still enjoying cheap energy from some of the dirtiest fossil fuels.”11Steven Swinford, Oliver Wright, and Matt Dathan. “Cabinet tensions heat up the road to Cop26,” The Times, August 14, 2021. Archived August 14, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gGOJM 

At a Conservative Party conference event in October 2021, hosted by the libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs, NZSG leader Steve Baker said that “a lot of the [climate] science is absolutely settled,” acknowledging that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that “we’ve emitted plenty of it”. However, Baker added that a lot of climate science is “actually still contestable” and is “sometimes propagandised”, stating that some of the scenarios produced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are “implausible”.

Philip Davies, NZSG member and one of only five MPs to vote against the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008, sent a letter to his constituents just before the UK government hosted the 2021 COP26 climate summit in Glasgow criticising the government’s net zero plans. He wrote that the UK’s net-zero climate targets will “make no difference at all” and called them “virtue signalling gesture politics”.12Climate Change Act Volume 567: debated on Tuesday 10 September 2013,” Hansard, September 10, 2013. Archived January 28, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/3qRyl 13Kristian Johnson. “Tory MP claims climate targets are ‘virtue signalling gesture politics’ just a week before COP26 summit,” Examiner Live, October 25, 2021. Archived October 26, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/mexdV 

Lord Peter Lilley, a former GWPF trustee and another of the five MPs to vote against the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008, is also a member of the NZSG. In 2021, Lilley – a self-proclaimed “lukewarmist”, spoke to the Independent about concerns from climate campaigners about his appointment to the Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee, saying: “I am amused at how alarmed the alarmists are about someone being appointed to a committee on climate change who entirely accepts the science of global warming and may ask inconvenient questions about what scientific evidence there is for alarmist claims!”14Climate Change Volume 498: debated on Thursday 5 November 2009,” Hansard, November 5, 2009. Archived February 16, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/2Sxji 15Tom Batchelor. “Tory peer with strong links to climate denial appointed to panel overseeing government’s environment policy,” The Independent, April 15, 2021. Archived April 16, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ZTdOW 

Despite tweeting that he is a “huge supporter of #NetZero”, in March 2021 NZSG member Mark Jenkinson, MP for Workington, said to colleagues in a private chat that the government had “bowed to climate terrorists” after its decision to order a public inquiry into the controversial Cumbia coal mine project, according to reporting by The Sun. Jenkinson later shared a statement that called the decision a “capitulation to climate alarmists”.16I’m a huge supporter of #NetZero – but that has to take account of production, transport and usage, and our efforts abroad. We also seem to forget in a lot of our discourse that Net Zero (relative to 1990) is not absolute Zero.” Tweet by user @markjenkinsonmp, August 7, 2021. Archived August 7, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Y9va2 17Natasha Clark and Harry Cole. “MINE THE GAP Ministers intervene in furious row over Cumbria coal mine and order fresh public inquiry,” The Sun, March 11, 2021. Archived March 11, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Dn5J6 18My statement on tonight’s announcement re: West Cumbria Mining.” Facebook post by user Mark Jenkinson MP, March 11, 2021. Archived .png on file at DeSmog. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/1F14p 

Some NZSG members appear to support the current government’s policies on climate change, including NZSG member Damien Moore, MP for Southport, who wrote in 2020: “The UK Government has decided to become the world leader in low cost clean power generation – cheaper than coal and gas; and we believe that in ten years’ time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country.”19The Government is determined to progress with plans for the green industrial revolution with gale force speed, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs within the next ten years. […] Imagine that future – with high-skilled, green-collar jobs in wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage.” Facebook post by user Damien Moore MP, October 7, 2020. Archived .png on file at DeSmog. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/kS88S 

Craig Tracey, MP for North Warwickshire, appears to support the government’s climate policies thus far, writing on his website that “tackling climate change is at the forefront of many people’s minds” and that he is “pleased this is being taken extremely seriously by the government”.20Climate Change and the Environment,” Craig Tracey MP. Archived January 21, 2020. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/tFD6p 

Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, has written strongly in support of climate policies, including cutting coal use for energy and increasing renewable energy capacity, and has called for requirements to install solar panels on new industrial buildings and the installation of charging points for electric vehicles.21Climate Change and Environment Policy,” Anne Marie Morris MP. Archived November 3, 2019.  Archive URL: https://archive.ph/RGCPs 

Key People

Members

Related individuals

Actions

September 4, 2022

In a letter published by The Telegraph, members of the NZSG wrote that fracking should be restarted in the UK, and argued that gas projects should be “fast-tracked” through the government planning system in light of the energy crisis.25Net Zero Scrutiny Group. “Letters: Time for the Tories to come together and get on with the business of governing,” The Telegraph, September 4, 2022. Archived September 4, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/EUYNy  

The letter stated that “Energy prices are soaring while 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas sits idle under our feet” and claimed that ten percent of that amount “would give the UK self-sufficiency for 50 years”.

The letter continued: 

“By not using British shale gas resources, we’re missing out on tens of thousands of well-paid jobs, losing billions from the UK economy while enriching foreign exchequers, depriving councils and residents of millions of pounds of tax revenue, and putting our country at the mercy of a Russia-dominated European gas market as we all scrabble for the same limited resource.”

The letter was signed by the following NZSG members:

  • ​​Craig Mackinlay MP (Con)
  • Esther McVey MP (Con)
  • Lord Frost (Con)
  • Julian Knight MP (Con) 
  • Huw Merriman MP (Con) 
  • Bob Blackman MP (Con) 
  • Sir Robert Syms MP (Con)
  • Lee Anderson MP (Con)
  • Andrew Bridgen MP (Con)
  • Anne-Marie Morris MP (Con)
  • Adam Holloway MP (Con)
  • Greg Smith MP (Con)
  • Andrew Lewer MP (Con)
  • Philip Davies MP (Con)
  • David Warburton MP (Con)
  • Richard Drax MP (Con)
  • Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
  • Lord Borwick (Con)
  • Adam Afriyie MP (Con)
  • Laurence Robertson MP (Con)

The Baroness Foster and Lord Borwick, as well as MPs Merriman, Syms, Warburton, Drax, Robertson, Afriyie, had not previously been publicly named as signatories of letters penned by the NZSG.

February 16, 2022

DeSmog revealed that Mackinlay had recently hired GWPF and Net Zero Watch Head of Policy Harry Wilkinson to work as a parliamentary aide, and had been employing former GWPF trustee Ruth Lea since at least 2017.

Speaking to POLITICO about the hiring, Mackinlay said that Wilkinson’s continuing employment with Net Zero Watch “is fully disclosed according to parliamentary rules applying to MPs’ employees and his depth of knowledge acquired there is invaluable to my interest and work on net zero issues.”26Esther Webber and Karl Mathiesen. “Tory MP hires staff linked to climate denial group,” POLITICO, February 16, 2022. Archived February 17, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/zW8RE 

Mackinlay also told POLITICO that Lea’s work with the GWPF “was wholly unconnected to her original appointment with me and is not related to her continuation as a passholder now. She is largely retired these days and she comes to parliament infrequently.”

February 12, 2022

The Telegraph reported that 29 MPs and one Conservative peer had written a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson calling on him to end the “unconservative” ban on fracking in the UK, which has been in place since 2019.27Edward Malnick. “Tory grandees urge Boris Johnson to lift ‘unconservative’ ban on fracking,” The Telegraph, February 12, 2022. Archived February 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JsAdK 

The letter was organised by Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker and reportedly signed by NZSG members including Mackinlay, Baker, and Julian Knight. The Guardian reported that Mackinlay and Baker declined to share the names of other signatories.28Peter Walker. “David Frost joins Tory MPs in calls for return of fracking in UK,” The Guardian, February 13, 2022. Archived February 21, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/DD4nQ 

The letter argued that restarting fracking in the UK would “allow us to combat the cost of living crisis, level up, create jobs, opportunity and a renewed sense of community in the north, improve our energy security, reduce our reliance on imported gas, stabilise energy prices and achieve net zero without increasing the cost of living for already hard-pressed working families.”29Edward Malnick. “Tory grandees urge Boris Johnson to lift ‘unconservative’ ban on fracking,” The Telegraph, February 12, 2022. Archived February 14, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/JsAdK 

The letter was also signed by Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister; John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary; and Bob Blackman, the 1922 committee executive secretary.

January 2, 2022

NZSG members wrote a letter to the Telegraph calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to lessen the impact of inflation and “cost-of-living pressures” by removing VAT and environmental levies on domestic energy.30Letters: It’s time to overhaul the testing regime and get Britain moving again,” The Telegraph, January 2, 2022. Archived February 11, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/LaeNS 

The letter claimed that the “Climate Change Levy on business energy use” was “making UK energy-intensive businesses uncompetitive” and called for a “new approach to our energy security,” meaning increased North Sea exploration for oil and gas and support for fracking.

The letter’s calls to scrap green levies and back fossil fuels matched two of the key demands of the GWPF’s campaigning wing, Net Zero Watch (NZW). These demands were 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 letter was signed by the following NZSG members:

The letter’s publication was the first time a list of members had been made public and listed 19 members, considerably less than the 50 members Mackinlay implied had joined the group in November 2021.31NTD UK News Full Broadcast (Nov. 17),” NTD UK News, November 17, 2021. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

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