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MPs Urged to Ditch Ties to Parliamentary Lobby Group Run by ‘Climate Denialist’

A controversial parliamentary group that successfully opposes fuel price rises and tough climate action is backed by a campaigner who denies that humans are causing climate change, Josiah Mortimer reveals

Photo: Howard Cox in Twitter video backing anti-ULEZ protests
“I am very concerned that your APPG is supported by an organisation with extreme views on climate change and air pollution that regularly makes statements denying scientific evidence” the letter states. Photo of Howard Cox: Twitter screenshot

APPG scandal latest MPs Urged to Ditch Ties to Parliamentary Lobby Group Run by ‘Climate Denialist’

A controversial parliamentary group that successfully opposes fuel price rises and tough climate action is backed by a campaigner who denies that humans are causing climate change, Josiah Mortimer reveals

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MPs are being urged to sever links to a parliamentary group coordinated by a campaigner who denies that humans are to blame for climate change and says there is no climate crisis. 

Leading air pollution campaign groups have written to MPs behind the anti-fuel tax All Party Parliamentary Group for UK Motorists and Hauliers asking them to disown the group, after its official sponsor Howard Cox downplayed pollution as a cause of death of a nine year old girl and claimed “there is no climate crisis”. 

Jemima Hartshorn, Founder and Director of Mums for Lungs, is among those asking “FairFuel” APPG  members including Priti Patel and Labour’s Graham Stringer to sever all links with Cox, and his lobby group FairFuel UK following recent comments. 

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FairFuel UK is the official secretariat for the cross-party – but Conservative-dominated – group, providing administrative support for the meetings and events. FairFuel UK is also the official public point of contact for the group, and conducts much of the research for the APPG. 

It comes as the Mayor of London pushes ahead with plans to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to all of London this August. The policy would charge the most polluting vehicles – around 10% of cars – £12.50 a day to drive in the capital in a bid to tackle illegal levels of air pollution. 

The letter, which is also signed by Parents for Future UK and Mothers Rise Up UK, cites recent comments from Howard Cox including:

Responding to these comments, the Democratic Unionist Party’s chief whip Sammy Wilson replied: “I know Mr Cox well and support all of the views which he has expressed. I believe that it is important that we support the transport industry in our economy, it is what makes the economy tick and without efficient transport, both private and public, system [sic] our country would grind to a halt. 

“I am not aware of any unacceptable views which Mr Cox supports and indeed he brings a welcome perspective to the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group.”

A source close to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The Mayor is pushing ahead with a bold agenda to clean up our toxic air and tackle climate change, yet some MPs are still in league with those who deny the science and even deny that climate change exists at all.

“Those in positions of power who obstruct action to tackle climate change and reduce our toxic air are no different from those in the past who argued against legislation to save children from the dangers of tobacco smoke. They will go down as being on the wrong side of history.”

Howard Cox, Founder of the FairFuelUK Campaign, denied he was a climate change “denier”, telling Byline Times: “The only thing I deny is that there is a crisis. Climate change is definitely happening, to which I agree. [A] shame your left wing ignorance supports a campaign group that uses emotion and ad-hominem attacks instead of reasoned debate.”

He added: “They have no interest in helping low income families and lessening the cost of living crisis. And that is what my campaign mantra has been all about since 2010.”

(Left to right) FairFuelUK’s Howard Cox, Heidi skinner of the Freight Transport Association, Conservative MPs James Daly, Robert Halfon, Jamie Wallis and Jonathan Gullis, and Duncan Buchanan of the Road Haulage Association – calling for cuts in fuel duty in 2020

Freight Funders

The All Party Parliamentary Group on FairFuel for UK Motorists and Hauliers has received funding from the HGV and logistics industry and backs cuts to fuel duty, as well as opposing green measures such as the phase-out of new petrol and diesel car sales after 2030. 

It is one of the most influential all-party groups – having helped push for almost a decade of freezes on fuel duty, at a cost of billions of pounds to the Treasury at a time when the government says it is committed to moving to net zero. It is led by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who has been dubbed a climate-sceptic by environmental campaigners. Last month, right-wing former Home Secretary Priti Patel joined the group as an officer, reflecting the group’s small-state streak. 

A recent report by the Social Market Foundation found that a permanent freeze in fuel duty – a move being considered for March’s spring budget – would cost £27bn over the next five years, and benefit the most wealthy in society. The poorest typically drive less and have lower levels of car ownership. 

Byline Times has previously reported that the group, run by campaign group FairFuel UK, has been funded by the Road Haulage Association, and previously by Logistics UK, both of which are reliant on Heavy Goods Vehicles in line for emissions-cutting taxes and reforms. Such lobby groups are on the receiving end of clean-air levies like London’s soon-to-be-expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone which the APPG and FairFuel UK rail against. 

‘Rule Breach’

All Party Parliamentary Groups have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as they are typically co-run or sponsored by external interest groups. 

The rules state that APPGs “should provide lists of active members either on their website or, if they do not have a website, on request. For these purposes, an active member is one who has asked to be on the APPGs electronic or hard copy mailing list.” 

However, when contacted by Byline Times reader Lee Powell, Craig Mackinlay MP did not share a list of those MPs who were signed up, instead sending a link to a list of serving officers on the unofficial site Parallel Parliament. Byline Times also asked for a list of active members but received no response. 

A report in 2021, published on behalf of the FairFuel group, hit out at the plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. It failed to have a required disclaimer on its cover setting out that it did not represent the views of Parliament – and led to the resignation of at least one Labour supporter of the APPG. 

Fossil-Fuel Reliant Funders

A recent report from the APPG noted that “contributors” included the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Climate site DeSmog points out that the think tank was founded by the late ex-Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson with the purpose of combating what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to mitigate climate change. 

In December, the group appointed a businessman who claims environmentalism is part of a “totalitarian” plan to control the public, and says there is “no causal link” between human-made carbon emissions and global warming, DeSmog reported

FairFuel UK has frequently targeted Labour politicians over policies designed to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. But Sadiq Khan – who has made tackling air pollution one of his key issues as Mayor – appears to have been targeted with particular hostility. 

It comes as the Mayor of London plans to roll out the charge on the most polluting vehicles – affecting around 10% of drivers – from inner to all of outer London this August.


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The Background

As this newspaper has reported, 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”. 

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 or so 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. Two of Mackinlay’s current or former researchers have close ties to the controversial Global Warming Policy Forum (now rebranded as Net Zero Watch), including the MP’s current “researcher” Harry Wilkinson who is head of policy for the group.

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. 

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“Standing up for Common Sense”

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 FairFuel UK 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. 

After being approached by Byline Times in January, the Road Haulage Association said it was ending its funding for FairFuel UK. Logistics UK – formerly the Freight Transport Association – told this newspaper it had stepped away from sponsorship of FairFuel UK 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”.

Update: This piece was updated on 17th April to note two other signatories to the letter.

Letter in Full

Dear Member of Parliament,

I am writing on behalf of groups concerned about air pollution and climate, to express my concerns about Howard Cox and Fair Fuel UK’s role within the Fair Fuel for UK Motorists and UK Hauliers All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), of which you are a member. 

Motorists and hauliers can and should have their interests represented in Parliament, but I am very concerned that your APPG is supported by an organisation with extreme views on climate change and air pollution that regularly makes statements denying scientific evidence. 

Some of the comments that Howard Cox has made in recent months and years run completely contrary to any commitment to tackle air pollution or the climate crisis. He has called into question the work done by some of our country’s greatest scientific institutions, from Imperial College to the Crick institute. It was particularly offensive to see the coroner’s report into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah labelled as “ill-informed”, saying that asthma is “caused by allergies not by air pollution”, given the circumstances of Ella’s death. 

I founded the campaign group Mums for Lungs and speak every week to parents of children who suffer terribly from air pollution related illnesses. We know air pollution stunts the growth of children’s lungs, damages our health at all stages of our life and is linked to a myriad of illnesses from asthma to cancer and dementia. The climate crisis too is indisputable. To deny this is to deny proven science.

[The letter then cites the statements from Cox set out above] 

Given these comments, I am asking that your APPG sever all links with Howard Cox and Fair Fuel UK. Failing to do so would mean you have chosen to continue to align with climate-action deniers and those who repeatedly deny basic scientific evidence. 

I look forward to hearing from you.  

Jemima Hartshorn. Founder and Director, Mums for Lungs
Rowen Ryrie, Parents for Future UK
Maya Mailer, Mothers Rise Up UK

APPG on FairFuel members

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