Steve Baker’s COVID Recovery Group was backed by a company whose chairman is also a director of Toby Young’s COVID website

Steve Baker, a ringleader in the backbench Conservative rebellion against Boris Johnson’s Government, received donations from a company chaired by a Vote Leave business boss who is also now backing one of the most prominent Coronavirus disinformation websites in Britain.

The chairman of the firm – which backed Baker’s ‘COVID Recovery Group’ of more than 100 Conservative MPs – is simultaneously supporting Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic website, which regularly publishes COVID-19 disinformation from discredited alt-right conspiracy theorists, Byline Times can reveal. 

The relationship unearths how the political forces mobilising to remove Johnson from office have close ties to a range of alt-right political lobbies. It not only confirms the link between Brexit lobbyists and pandemic disinformation, but raises questions about how the current Conservative rebellion is empowering extremists.

Last year, Byline Times revealed that Baker’s campaign to rebrand British conservativism, launched through Conservative Way Forward, had ties to Donald Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. This was the same lobbying force that helped bring Boris Johnson to power.

Now, it turns out that another a businessman chairing a company that funded Baker – and who previously backed Brexit – is involved with a Toby Young venture that promotes fake news about the Coronavirus.

Young is a right-wing political commentator, secretary of the Free Speech Union, and London associate editor of Quillette magazine – both of which have ties to American alt-right networks.

Company records reviewed by Byline Times show that Skeptics Ltd. – the company that owns Young’s Daily Sceptic website – includes as one of its directors Luke Oliver Johnson.

He is a Conservative donor and staunch Vote Leave supporter who was formerly the chairman of the Patisserie Valerie café chain, which collapsed after a fraud scandal (there is no suggestion that he was personally implicated in the fraud). Luke Oliver Johnson was also among a hundred signatories of a pro-Conservative business letter backing the Conservatives in the 2015 General Election.

Daily Sceptic is the successor website to, launched early on during the Coronavirus pandemic by Young. At the time, the website regularly published fake news – including discredited claims about empty hospitals by a conspiracy theorist who believed that the pandemic was a planned hoax. 

Skeptics Ltd. was established in March 2021, and Luke Oliver Johnson was appointed a director of the company in December. 

As Byline Times reported last April, Luke Oliver Johnson is also the chairman of Risk Capital Partners LLP, which in November 2020 donated £4,500 to Conservative rebel backbencher Steve Baker to fund the services of a media consultant for his COVID Recovery Group of MPs. 

The consultant in question was Conservative PR guru and Westminister lobbyist Ed Barker, who has advised Boris Johnson on his Conservative Party leadership campaign and provided communications support to Cabinet ministers such as Priti Patel, as well as many other Conservative MPs. 

Joining Luke Oliver Johnson among Skeptics Ltd.’s directors – in addition to Toby Young himself – is Ian Rons, who runs the website for Young’s other project, the Free Speech Union (FSU), along with Noah Carl. Carl is the disgraced Cambridge University academic who lost his post after his sympathies with racist eugenics and collaboration with far-right extremists came to light.

More recently, Daily Sceptic has promoted anti-vaxxer disinformation from the Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART). It recently published a HART article demanding the Government immediately end vaccines for children and young people due to rising deaths of young males aged 15 to 19, based on an open letter signed by 80 scientists. None of the signatories, however, have any specific expertise in vaccines. HART has previously released pseudoscientific disinformation claiming that deaths attributed to COVID-19 were actually caused by vaccines.

HART also ran the PR for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pandemic Response and Recovery, launched last September. The APPG, chaired by former Housing Minister Esther McVey, is being administered and funded by Collateral Global – the successor organisation to the Great Barrington Declaration, the Koch-backed document suggesting a ‘herd immunity’ should be adopted to the pandemic. McVey is also a senior member and supporter of the Conservative Way Forward pressure group now chaired by Steve Baker. 

Luke Oliver Johnson’s ties to both Baker’s group of rebel MPs and Toby Young’s pandemic disinformation website throws new light on how the escalating Conservative Party rebellion against Boris Johnson’s premiership is being led by many of the same forces that helped get him elected in the first place. 

But they also show that those forces, intermingled with extreme right-wing views about the pandemic, are waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum after his departure.

Luke Oliver Johnson, Toby Young and Steve Baker MP did not respond to requests for comment.


Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story! Sign up to our newsletter (and get a free edition posted to you)

Our leading investigations include: empire & the culture warBrexit, crony contractsRussian interferencethe Coronavirus pandemicdemocracy in danger, and the crisis in British journalism. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under The Coronavirus Crisis

The Rise of Fringe Science, Contrarian Doctors, and the Threat to Public Health

, 24 January 2023
Dr David Robert Grimes looks at the partisan polarisation and obsession with scientists rather than science that makes us prone to medical misinformation and anti-vaccine propaganda

‘Beware One-Sided Political Narratives about NHS Reform’

, 16 January 2023
Consultant David Oliver analyses the claims about spending, waste and inefficiency in healthcare and proposes a ten point plan to restore services to their 2010 level

NHS Crisis: ‘Record Numbers’ of GPs Seeking Medical Help for Mental Health Issues

, 11 January 2023
GPs have faced a barrage of attacks in the press and briefings from government over the pandemic. It's taking its toll.

More stories filed under Reportage

Strikers Could Face Prison Under New Protest Law, Say Legal Experts

, 27 January 2023
The Public Order Act – launched to clamp down on groups like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil – could be used against trade unionists too

Government Condemns Iran’s Human Rights Abuses – While Threatening Iranian Refugees with Deportation to Rwanda

, 27 January 2023
Sian Norris speaks to an Iranian refugee about the impact of the Rwanda scheme on people seeking asylum from the repressive regime

Concerns that Government’s Finance Bill Benefits Big Money and Harms the Planet

, 27 January 2023
The Financial Services and Markets Bill risks wrecking the UK's commitment to net zero, writes Thomas Perrett

More from the Byline Family