Brexit campaign leadership dominated by climate-sceptics

Boris Johnson, a leading Vote Leave politician who has cast doubt on global warming. [BackBoris2012campaign/Flickr]

INVESTIGATION/ Leading figures in the Vote Leave referendum campaign to take Britain out of the EU have links to a controversial climate-sceptic think tank and question the science behind global warming.

The group’s three leaders Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and figurehead Lord Nigel Lawson have cast doubt over man-made climate change, which is backed by most of the world’s credible experts.

Lawson founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2009 and is a noted climate sceptic. Both the foundation, which broke UK Charity Commission rules for anti-climate bias, and Vote Leave share rich donors.

Gove – who tried to stop climate change being taught in schools – and in particular Johnson are seen as Conservative leadership frontrunners should a Brexit vote topple UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who backs Remain.

There are so many influential politicians and donors that are both euro and climate-sceptic that it has raised fears over the future of UK climate policy if the UK votes for Brexit on 23 June.

“What the climate change deniers and Brexiteers have in common is the rejection of evidence as the basis of policy,” said Tom Burke, chairman of London-based environmental think tank E3G.

“It’s a concern because these are a group of people, who want to be in charge of government, who have immunised themselves against evidence,” he added.

Friends of the Earth’s Sam Lowe said, “The overlap between those people calling for Brexit and self-professed climate change sceptics is notable and of major concern. Of even greater concern is how central many of these people, and their ideas, are to the Leave campaign.”

A spokesman for the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign said, “They deny the scientific evidence on climate change, just as they deny the economic evidence that leaving the EU would wreck the UK economy and cost around 820,000 jobs.”

Vote Leave didn’t return requests for comment yesterday (23 May). But the Global Warming Policy Foundation did.

Director Benny Peiser said the foundation had no view on the EU referendum and was not involved in any shape or form in referendum activities. “So far as I know, our trustees are divided on the referendum debate,” he added.

Peiser said the foundation and its members had a broad range of different scientific and economic viewpoints on climate change.


Gove tried to remove climate change from the national curriculum when he was in charge of Britain’s schools.

The move, ultimately foiled, was sparked by a Global Warming Policy Foundation report, accusing “activist” teachers of trying to turn children into “foot soldiers of the green movement”.

According to a spokesman for the then education secretary, Gove had “read the report with concern”.

Gove also drew criticism for blocking then-climate secretary Amber Rudd for attending crucial talks in Lima, Peru – the last before the ultimately successful UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

The UK was among the 195 countries that committed to cap global warming at last December’s landmark UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

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In 2013, Johnson said that snow cast doubt on the existence of climate change, citing Piers Corbyn, a climate change denier and brother to Labour leader Jeremy, to support his case.

In a column for the Telegraph, Johnson wrote, “According to Piers, global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on the mood of our celestial orb. Sometime too bright the eye of heaven shines, said Shakespeare, and often is his gold complexion dimmed. That is more or less right.”

There is a difference between weather, which happens over a short period, and climate, which is how the atmosphere behaves over longer periods. Climate change has been linked to heavier snow and other extreme weather.

When editor of The Spectator – a position also held by Lawson – Johnson printed articles by Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and Matt Ridley, a member of the foundation’s academic advisory council.

Ridley was until recently a vice-president of the Vote Leave campaign. His name is no longer listed on its website. While he accepts the idea of global warming, he denies it will lead to catastrophic environmental change.

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MPs and donors

Tory MP Owen Patterson, former environment secretary and a senior Vote Leave strategist, slashed UK climate change adaptation spending by 40% and called for the flagship Climate Change Act to be scrapped. He delivered the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s 2014 annual lecture.

Labour MP Graham Stringer is a member of the Vote Leave campaign board, and a member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s board of trustees.

Conservative peer Lord Michael Vinson is a donor to the foundation. Although could not substantiate he has links to Vote Leave, he is a member of the closely affiliated Business for Britain’s advisory council.

Sir Michael Hintze is the fourth-richest hedge fund boss in Britain, with a €1.6bn fortune. He was named as a possible Vote Leave donor by Sky News.

As well as being a donor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, he has been a prominent supporter of Business for Britain, which supports and shares staff with Vote Leave.

Currency trader Neil Record is a Vote Leave supporter, joining other “city leaders” in a written call for Brexit.

He was also revealed to be a Global Warming Policy Foundation donor, which has been notably reticent to disclose its funders in the past.

Grassroots Out

The UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, is not part of the Vote Leave campaign, instead being affiliated with the rival Grassroots Out campaign.

UKIP’s energy policy pamphlet stated there were “increasing doubts about the theory of man-made climate change.”

Similar sentiments have been echoed by the Eurosceptic party’s MEPs Roger Helmer and Stuart Agnew.

Greenpeace UK spokesman Graham Thompson said the UK’s most prominent climate sceptics were free market enthusiasts, who had realised climate change solutions would require higher taxes, state intervention and regulation – so decided to deny there was a problem.

He said, “Right-wing Euroscepticism is generally driven by the same anti-regulation motive, and so attracts the same type of ideologue.

“Given that the people questioning the need for EU membership are the same people who question basic physics in the climate debate, it’s not altogether surprising that some of the ‘facts’ they use in the euro debate are, to say the least, questionable.”

Lucas: ‘Worrying’ link between Leave camp and climate change denial

Energy policies would be rolled back, demand for environmental experts would drop and Britain’s voice in global climate change talks would be lost if it votes to leave the EU, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told EURACTIV’s partner in an exclusive interview.

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union before his election in May 2015. The renegotiation was to be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

After the February 2016 European Council, where a reform deal was agreed, Cameron will campaign to stay in with the referendum date set for 23 June.

  • 23 June: Referendum

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