Boris Johnson’s Ex-PR Guru Lands Role at Fracking Giant
The appointment raises fresh questions about the ‘revolving door’ between energy companies and the Government, reports Sascha Lavin
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A Westminster insider who played a key role in Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign is now advising the shale fracking company Cuadrilla, Byline Times can reveal.
Cuadrilla is the only company to frack for shale gas in Britain but has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups and local residents, especially after its explorations caused Earth tremors that were larger than expected. A 2.9 magnitude tremor was felt in August 2019 while Cuadrilla fracked its Preston New Road site near Blackpool, prompting a moratorium on fracking in November that year.
Ed Barker, who claims to have been “at the heart of… Boris Johnson’s journey to becoming Prime Minister and the 2019 General Election” has managed the public relations for a wide range of Conservative Party organisations, including the Thatcherite campaign group, Conservative Way Forward (CWF).
The CWF was rebooted this summer by Conservative MP Steve Baker and has the financial backing of individuals linked to the influential climate science-sceptic think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The CWF has been campaigning against measures to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including calling for the suspension of green levies on energy bills. Baker was appointed as Northern Ireland Minister by Liz Truss in September – a position he retained when Rishi Sunak took over 10 Downing Street a month later.
Ed Barker, a former parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party, has also advised anti-lockdown groups Recovery Alliance and UsForThem, and provided communications support to Conservative MPs on the right of the party, including Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
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He has also consulted for ‘Blue Collar Conservatives’ – a group of self-described working class Conservative MPs, and reportedly masterminded PR for several major hard-Brexit campaigns including ‘Leave Means Leave’ – run by Richard Tice and Nigel Farage – and ‘StandUp4Brexit’.
Byline Times previously reported on Barker’s involvement with the Legatum Group, a Dubai-based investment firm that bankrolls the right-wing broadcaster GB News.
This newspaper now understands that Barker has been helping the controversial fracking company Cuadrilla with its PR and communications.
Liz Truss lifted the moratorium on fracking during her brief stint in office, but Rishi Sunak has reinstated the ban, telling the House of Commons last month that he “stands by” the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledge to maintain a ban on the practice in England.
Although Cuadrilla is 96% owned by AJ Lucas – an “Australian specialist service provider to the energy, mining and infrastructure sector”, according to the company’s website – the fracking giant’s ownership structure is somewhat opaque. Earlier this year, Byline Times submitted a request to Companies House to reveal the beneficial owners of Cuadrilla Resources, but received no reply.
In 2015, Greenpeace found that Cuadrilla was “majority owned by entities based in offshore tax havens” and that its parent company, AJ Lucas, was “substantially bankrolled by Kerogen Capital, registered in the Cayman [Islands]”. Kerogen appears to hold 65% of the shares in AJ Lucas.
According to its most recent accounts, AJ Lucas Group spent $1.1 million last year on lobbying to overturn the fracking moratorium and on the maintenance of its sites. This is despite the fact that the Cuadrilla’s own founder has said that fracking in the UK will be impossible at any meaningful scale and will not help to address the energy price crisis.
“No sensible investors” would take the risk of undertaking large-scale projects in the UK, geologist Chris Cornelius told the Guardian.
Big Energy Interests
Ed Barker’s appointment isn’t Cuadrilla’s only link to the Conservative Party. Rachel Wolf co-wrote the Conservative’s 2019 Manifesto while continuing to work as a partner at Public First – a lobbying business which counted Cuadrilla among its clients.
The fracking firm’s close ties to the Conservative Party are also not unique to Boris Johnson’s premiership: as Prime Minister, David Cameron appointed the then chair of Cuadrilla, Lord John Browne, as the lead non-executive director of the Cabinet Office.
OpenDemocracy has revealed the scale of the ‘revolving door’ between major energy firms and Westminster, finding that at least a dozen energy insiders had been given key roles in energy policy, including a current board chairman at BP and five former Shell employees.
As revealed by Byline Times, Sunak himself has recently appointed a former Centrica director – the firm that owns British Gas – as his business and energy advisor. This comes after Sunak received £141,000 from energy interests during his Conservative leadership campaign this summer.
The party Sunak now leads has itself directly received £1.3 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate sceptics between December 2019 and October 2021.
Sunak made a flying visit to the COP27 UN climate change summit in Egypt last week, joining his predecessor and Barker’s former client Johnson at the climate summit.
Speaking at the conference, Johnson – who planned to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea during his premiership – said that “now is not the time to go wibbly-wobbly on net zero”. But, as Baker’s appointment further deepens links between the Government and energy firms, Johnson’s warning may be too late.
Cuadrilla and Ed Barker did not respond to requests for comment.