Labour MPs Quit Parliamentary Lobbying Group Set Up to Slash Tax on Petrol as Ties to Big Polluters Emerge
One Labour MP quit after a report by the APPG criticising the move to electric vehicles was backed by the Global Warming Policy Foundation – often described as the most high-profile climate ‘sceptic’ body in the UK
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A leading parliamentary lobbying group against clean air charges and increases in fuel duty has seen Labour MPs quit after it criticised the phasing-out of fossil-fuelled vehicles in a report backed by a ‘climate sceptic’ think tank.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and UK Hauliers is funded by a road haulage industry that is dependent on fossil fuel-guzzling HGVs – and has seen Labour figures leave over its anti-green campaigning, Byline Times can reveal.
APPGs are informal, cross-party groups of MPs and peers – lacking the standing of parliamentary committees – which consider particular policy areas. There are currently more than 700 of them. While many do productive work, there are concerns about potential conflicts of interests on others in terms of how they are funded and the influence of the policy recommendations they advance.
As this newspaper reported on Monday, the APPG on Fair Fuel’s founder organisation, FairFuelUK, has been vociferous in its opposition to increases in tax on petrol and diesel and claims that, since 2010, it has “saved drivers over £160 billion in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT” through its campaigning – in other words, costing the Treasury more than the annual budget of the NHS in England.
Fuel duty is meant to rise each year in pence terms, rather than as a percentage of the pump price. But governments have consistently halted this over the past decade following lobbying from drivers’ groups.
Higher Education Minister Robert Halfon has been quoted calling FairFuelUK “one of the most successful campaigning pressure groups in the UK”, saying that “with limited resources” its leader Howard Cox has “single-handedly created a remarkable coalition of millions of grassroots activists, parliamentarians and supporting media to keep fuel duty frozen year after year”.
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FairFuelUK says it is a non-partisan campaign, but much of its support in Parliament derives from the climate-sceptic Conservative right.
The APPG’s chair, Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, heads up the Net Zero Scrutiny Group – consisting of 20 Tory backbenchers vociferously opposed to green policies such as the planned phase-out of gas boilers. The caucus is viewed as a hub for climate ‘sceptics’ in the party.
Mackinlay has it out at levels of “fuel taxation, congestion charges, parking costs, roads investment” and has demanded “fairer treatment for carbon-based fuelled vehicle owners”. He has called Cox “instrumental in organising, drafting, printing and publicising” a 2021 report that hit out at the planned 2030 phase-out of fossil fuelled vehicle sales.
The APPG itself says that it is set on tackling “unfair treatment for fossil-fuelled vehicle owners” – suggesting it is not a keen backer of the shift to electric vehicles.
Labour Figures Quit
But Byline Times can reveal that the 2021 report by the APPG led to the resignation of at least one Labour member, who said she had not seen it before it was published with the APPG’s logo on it.
The report criticising the end to new petrol and diesel vehicle sales claimed it was produced “by the APPG for Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers, with considerable editorial and research input by Howard Cox, secretary to the APPG and founder of the FairFuelUK Campaign”.
Backers with logos that appeared on the report included the Alliance of British Drivers, the Motorcycle Action Group, and the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a Tufton Street-based think tank founded by former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson to challenge what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to avert climate change.
I [was] disappointed to be associated with a report into which I had no inputLabour Mary Glindon MP on quitting the APPG
In her resignation letter, Labour MP Mary Glindon – who resigned from the APPG in November 2021 – said that she was following in the footsteps of her Labour colleague Rosie Cooper in resigning because “I was completely unaware of the group’s report published in August  on the banning of new fossil-fuelled vehicles from 2030. Until I saw criticisms on social media, I was surprised that a report had been researched and produced without all members of the APPG being made aware of it”.
“Subsequently having seen the report myself, there are specific things in the report and its recommendations that I cannot support and with which I do not wish to be associated,” she wrote.
“I am therefore disappointed to be associated with a report into which I had no input prior to its publication. Please accept this letter as my formal resignation from the group which, in previous years, I had enjoyed being part of.”
‘Direct Lobbying of Ministers’
Craig Mackinlay said the report “enjoyed a great deal of coverage in our national media and is concentrating ministers’ minds” thanks to Cox’s work, adding: “I very much hope that he will be in a position to continue to support our APPG and our direct lobbying of ministers in the future.”
Despite this praise for Howard Cox’s work for the APPG, the group has reported “zero” in registerable benefits to parliamentary authorities. The APPG rules state that benefits in kind include those “provided to the group over a period of time, such as for example, research, administrative, secretarial or web support… contributions to preparing, printing or publishing reports”. Byline Times has asked for clarity from the APPG on why this is the case.
This is the latest in a series of revelations on APPGs, which critics say allow vested private interests direct access to MPs in the heart of British democracy – campaigning for policies which they would stand to benefit from.
Only one Labour MP now remains sitting on the APPG, Graham Stringer. Stringer is described as being “part of a close-knit network of pro-Brexit climate science deniers” by DeSmog and served on the board of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU Referendum. The Charity Commission lists him as a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. He did not reply to Byline Times’ request for comment.
The only non-Conservative politicians on the APPG, aside from Stringer, are: Sammy Wilson, chief whip for the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party; and suspended Conservative MP Julian Knight, who had the Conservative whip suspended in December after the Metropolitan Police announced it was investigating allegations of sexual assault that he refutes.
FairFuelUK founder and the APPG’s secretary Howard Cox told Byline Times: “At FairFuelUK, we have no party-political links but are standing up for low-income families, small businesses, sound economics and common sense”.
He added that, among the group’s “hundreds of thousands of supportive drivers”, are a “huge chunk of Labour voters that also believe the whole alleged climate crisis religion is being used to destroy our freedom of transport choice”.
And he claimed that the 2030 cut-off for the sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles will “cost at least five times the alleged environmental benefits” based on “the Government’s own valuations of the alleged unproven environmental benefits”.
Last year, it emerged that Cox is the director of a firm developing unproven, experimental fuel additive products to reduce emissions. Meanwhile, a recommendation in the APPG’s 2021 report claimed the phase-out of petrol and diesel engines was unnecessary. Cox denied any conflict of interest saying the recommendation was a “practical and effective” means of reducing pollution instead of phasing-out fossil-fuel vehicles.
The London Labour Party has branded FairFuelUK a de facto part of the “fossil fuel lobby” after receiving funding from the highly-polluting haulage industry and opposing policies to transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles.
Commenting on the APPG’s opposition to expanding London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), a London Labour spokesperson told Byline Times: “Four thousand Londoners are dying every year due to toxic air pollution and the growth of children’s lungs is being stunted. It’s shameful that the Tories and FairFuelUK are happy to accept that.”
Green Party Co-Leader, Adrian Ramsay, said “we are living in the middle of a climate emergency and all political parties should be focused, first and foremost, on reducing emissions, not working with lobby groups that explicitly want to slow down climate action”.
“We know that the only way to create a greener, fairer country is to put all our efforts in reducing the need for cars by pumping money into public transport and walking and cycling,” he added. “However, we also know that FairFuelUK works with the Conservatives and has tried in London to block the new clean air zone. Neither of the two major parties should be influenced at all by their harmful proposals, yet that is exactly what we seem to be seeing.”
After being approached by Byline Times, the Road Haulage Association said it was ending its funding for FairFuelUK.
Logistics UK – formerly the Freight Transport Association – told this newspaper it had stepped away from sponsorship of FairFuelUK as the group’s focus “had shifted from being a campaign solely backed by commercial fleet operators into a public motorists’ campaign and this led to some campaigning positions which are not aligned with those of our members”.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has signalled he will once again cancel the planned rise in fuel duty and could extend the 5p cut, despite fuel prices dropping in recent weeks.
If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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