The Conservative Party and its MPs have registered more than £1.7m in donations from climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests since the 2019 general election, an investigation by The Ferret can reveal.
Our analysis of donations registered with the Electoral Commission from December 2019 found that £1,753,161 has been donated, including thousands of pounds given to prime minister Rishi Sunak, the former prime minister, Liz Truss, and Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross.
Our findings prompted green campaigners to voice concern over the apparent close links between the Conservative Party, the oil and gas sector, and climate sceptics.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was “pretty telling that the oil and gas industry’s political support has to be bought rather than won on merit”, while the Scottish Greens claimed the “anti-climate lobby” was trying to buy influence at Westminster with “dirty money”.
The Tories declined to comment but one donor said his support for the party in Scotland has no connection with his business interests, adding he was a firm believer in a net zero carbon future.
There is no evidence the donations influenced UK Government policy. All were legally given and declared to the Electoral Commission, and there is no suggestion of any wrong-doing.
According to the Electoral Commission, Sir Michael Hintze has given £136,250 to the Tory Party. An Australian hedge fund manager who donated money to the Brexit campaign, he also funded a climate sceptic think tank called the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
GWPF is based at 55 Tufton Street, London, the home of other free-marketeer think tanks. Its website states: “We are deeply concerned about the impact of climate change policies: that they may be doing more harm than good, both to the world’s poorest people and the environment.”
Another GWPF backer, Neil Record, gave £5,000 to Steve Baker MP in January this year. In 2017, Record donated £2,000 to Scottish Conservative MP John Lamont’s local party in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.
Alasdair Locke, chair of Motor Fuel Group, which owns more than 900 petrol stations in the UK, gave £180,000 to the Tories which included £20,000 to Douglas Ross, the Tory leader in Scotland.
Locke told The Ferret: “Far from being a climate sceptic, I am a firm believer in the need to achieve a net zero carbon future as soon as possible, and I believe that if we adopt the right policies and technologies we can achieve this in the UK well before 2050 especially if we accept the use of nuclear energy.”
He added: “My support for the Conservative Party in Scotland has no connection with my business interests and I have never sought to influence or shape policy as I think that it is quite inappropriate for there to be any connection between donations and policy.
“However I think that the Conservative Party is committed to changing our economy to a non-fossil fuel future and I am fully supportive of this policy and would certainly reconsider my support should that change.
“I believe that the Conservative policies are the best suited to achieving that aim in a way that enables us not to cause severe difficulties and distress for ordinary citizens.”
Amjad Bseisu, chief executive of North Sea oil firm EnQuest, donated £62,500 to the party on a personal basis. Balmoral Group Holdings — a conglomerate that offers oil and gas technology and services — donated £210,000. Balmoral group declined to comment. Cable infrastructure firm Tratos, — which produces cables for the global oil and gas industry — donated £96,150.
The Tories also received £19,9000 from Richard Upshall, the founder of OES Asset Integrity Management, whose global head office is in the UAE, and £25,000 from Centrax Industries, a gas turbine company. Energy firm, Bayford and Company Ltd, donated £112,396 while Thomas Biggart, chief investment officer at Motor Fuel Group, donated £30,000.
Another £50,000 was donated by Access Industries (UK) Ltd, a conglomerate owned by oil tycoon Len Blavatnik, a UK citizen born in Ukraine. Other donors included Alexander Temerko, the Ukrainian owner of Aquind who is also a UK citizen. He donated £426,465. Matthew Ferrey, former executive with oil trader Vitol, has given the party £97,750.
Last month it was reported that prime minister Rishi Sunak received £141,000 from individuals and companies with financial ties to fossil fuels, and in September it emerged that Liz Truss had accepted a £100,000 donation from the wife of a former BP executive.
Desmog reported in July that Priti Patel MP, former home secretary, had received £140,000 in donations this year from “donors with significant fossil fuel and offshore energy interests”.
Both the Cabinet Office and the Conservative Party declined to comment.
Our findings come in the wake of prime minister Rishi’s Sunak trip to COP27 in Egypt last week following a U-turn on his decision not to attend. Sunak initially said he was too busy with domestic matters which prompted international criticism and questions over his commitment to protecting the environment.
In his speech at the event, Sunak said that investing in green infrastructure is morally the right thing to do.
He told the COP27 summit: “The UK, which was the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero, will fulfil our ambitious commitment to reduce emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030.
“In Glasgow, more than 140 countries which are home to over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, made a historic promise to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of this decade. And just this afternoon I co-hosted the first meeting of the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership to ensure this is delivered.”
Sunak added: “I can tell you today that the United Kingdom is delivering on our commitment of £11.6bn. And as part of this – we will now triple our funding on adaptation to £1.5bn by 2025.”
Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are on track to rise around one per cent this year, according to a new scientific report warning this would make it harder for the world to avoid disastrous levels of climate change.
Released during COP27, the Global Carbon Budget report is based on research from more than 100 scientists and provides an annual stocktake of both carbon emissions and carbon sinks.
Fossil fuel lobbying
Another report revealed the scale of lobbying by the fossil fuel sector at the event. Global Witness said there were 636 fossil fuel lobbyists at the COP27 climate conference, a rise of more than 25 per cent from last year in Glasgow when the figure was 503.
The data on lobbyists, compiled by Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory, shows the growing influence of oil and gas interests at the climate talks.
A spokesperson for the three groups said: “With time running out to avert climate disaster, major talks like COP27 absolutely must advance concrete action to stop the toxic practices of the fossil fuel industry that is causing more damage to the climate than any other industry.
“The extraordinary presence of this industry’s lobbyists at these talks is therefore a twisted joke at the expense of both people and planet.
Meanwhile, the UK’s former Brexit minister, Lord Frost, revealed he is joining the board of GWPF and said: “In my view we’re not in a climate emergency or a climate crisis in the very hysterical way some people want to suggest.”
He added: “For too long the costs of net zero policies have not been given adequate attention by policymakers or the media. There is far too much wishful thinking about pressing ahead with decarbonisation as quickly as possible, and too much demonisation of those who are asking legitimate questions.”
Commenting on the donations to the Tories, Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, questioned what corporations expect from politicians “in return for huge financial handouts”.
She said: “There’s no place for fossil fuels in a climate safe future, but those who profit from the industry are not going down without a fight. The UK Government policy of encouraging more oil and gas extraction is little more than climate change denial.
Citing recent flooding in Pakistan, Hurricane Ian in the US, and heat waves in the UK, Church claimed climate sceptics are “closing their eyes” to the “devastating impacts” people are enduring from a “climate breakdown being driven by burning fossil fuels”.
She added: “Instead of cosying up to cranks and polluters, the UK Government needs to set an end date for fossil fuels well within the decade and redouble efforts for a fair transition away to a renewable powered economy, with affordable heat and transport for all.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, of the Scottish Greens, claimed the anti-climate lobby is “pouring money into Tory coffers” in order to “buy influence”.
He said: “Whether it is the destructive drive towards nuclear power or their catastrophic plans for over 100 new oil and gas licences, these wealthy donors are clearly getting their money’s worth. Time and again the Tories have proven that they can’t be trusted with our environment and, when you look at who their friends are, it’s clear why.
Ruskell added: “The prime minister may have warm words about renewables, but, when push comes to shove, he’s sticking to the same terrible policies that have brought us to this point. This is dirty money. No party that cares about a sustainable future should be taking a single penny from polluters or those that are spreading myths about our climate.”
Everyone named above was asked to comment.
Photo credit: Number 10
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National on 13 November 2022.