The top four incumbent politicians to have taken donations are all Conservative MPs, with former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox receiving the most. Two other Tory MPs, three Labour MPs and the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, are joint fourth, and another Tory MP is also in the top 10.
Official records show how airports, airlines and aircraft manufacturers have made hundreds of contributions, either in cash or to cover the cost of politicians’ travel, since the Electoral Commission’s online political finance database listings begin in 2001.
While significant amounts have been donated by well-known companies such as Airbus and Virgin Atlantic, more than half of the donations come from Christopher Harborne, CEO of AML Global, an aviation fuel supplier.
Harborne has given the Brexit Party £5.2 million since July this year, having previously gifted the Conservative Party a total of £279,000. Harborne was a member of the Conservative Party’s elite “Leader’s Group” of donors until he switched allegiance in July. (to Brexit).
Three other Leader’s Group members – Michael Bishop, now Lord Glendonbrook, a former owner of BMI Airlines, and Anastasia and Serge Sergeef, former Managing Directors of Sovereign Business Jets – contributed a combined total of £1,387,000 to the Conservatives.
Although Labour and Conservative politicians received a similar amount of donations (£680,000 and £647,000, respectively), when these are combined with donations made to their central parties, the Tories received £2.8 million, more than three times the total given to Labour.
The Liberal Democrats were the fourth largest recipient party with £189,000 in donations, while the SNP and Plaid Cymru each received £20,000. UKIP, the official Remain campaign and the DUP all received less than £10,000.
Donations made personally to politicians accounted for approximately a fifth of the total.
Liam Fox came first among incumbents, with £19,000 worth of donations from Virgin Atlantic and BAA. The pro-Brexit MP has previously stressed the need to “reduce the consumption of fossil fuels” but has backed fracking and told an oil and gas conference earlier this year that “for the moment, we do require fossil fuels to deliver secure and affordable energy.”
He has close ties to US-based free market lobby groups with a history of climate science denial and opposition to emissions reduction, which he developed through the Atlantic Bridge, the now-defunct think tank he founded.
Nigel Evans, a fellow Conservative Brexiteer, is in second place and has been a strong advocate of aviation growth in the UK, criticising the “dither and delay” over airport expansion in an article for ConservativeHome.
Chris Ruane, a Welsh Labour MP, told DeSmog the two donations from BAA and Manchester Airport in 2001 that put him and others in joint fourth place among incumbent politicians related to an offer of free parking from UK airports to all MPs that no longer exists.
“In common with all MPs at the time, I was given the facility of parking at UK airports and to ensure I was open and honest I chose to declare the maximum potential amount that this benefit could be worth. It does not reflect the actual usage of the benefit. This offer ceased in 2001.”
He reiterated his commitment to tackling climate change, including through the development of more renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. “Faced with a Conservative Party who have far too many members who deny the climate emergency, this election is one of the most important for decades,” he added.
A spokesperson for Plaid Cymru, whose leader Adam Price is also in the top 10, told DeSmog the party’s MPs had “consistently voted against a third runway at Heathrow” and were committed to tackling the climate emergency by becoming a “zero-carbon, zero-waste nation by 2030”.
None of the other parties or politicians in this story responded to a request for comment.
Analysis of the donations also shows surges in giving around the time of key government decisions on aviation, such as the approval of Heathrow Terminal 5 in 2001 and debates around Heathrow expansion in 2009 and 2018.
BAA, the previous owner of several UK airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh and Glasgow, gave £1.2 million between 2001 and 2009.
A BBC investigation recently found airlines across Europe have been deliberately stocking up on more fuel than necessary in countries with cheaper fuel prices, increasing a flight’s carbon footprint in a technique known as “fuel tankering”.
Leo Murray, Co-founder and Director of Innovation at climate charity Possible and creator of the “frequent flyer levy” proposal, told DeSmog it was “perhaps not entirely coincidental” that politicians had collectively received so many donations given their support for aviation growth across the UK, including at Heathrow.
“Aviation today is effectively a rogue sector when it comes to climate change, with nobody prepared to take responsibility for its rapidly increasing emissions, and ongoing support for regional airport expansion all over the UK from many of the same politicians that have been endorsing local climate emergency declarations,” he said.
Parties are pledging to respond in differing ways to the sector’s emissions, which are projected to increase beyond levels that the government’s climate advisors say are compatible with the country’s 2050 “net zero” target.
While the Conservatives recently announced new funding for research and development into cleaner aircraft, the Greens and Liberal Democrats both oppose any further airport expansion and back a “frequent flyer levy” to target the minority of air passengers who take a majority of flights.
Labour has signaled it could scrap Heathrow expansion if elected but stopped short of saying it would seek to limit aviation growth in its manifesto.
The SNP voted in favour of Heathrow expansion last year, in contrast to Plaid Cymru’s position, but decided to U-turn on a proposed cut to air passenger tax earlier this year, saying the plan was “no longer compatible” with its climate targets. The Brexit Party does not mention aviation policy in its manifesto.
DeSmog compiled a spreadsheet of donations by searching the Electoral Commission’s political finance database, using aviation-related terms such as “airport” and “airline” as well as specific aviation company names and directors. We manually checked over the almost 500 entries to remove any duplicates or irrelevant donations. We then analysed the donations according to political party and ordered individual politicians according to the total size of donations received. Politicians were categorised according to the party they represented and the position they held at the time of the donation.
The Brexit Party has the least interest, of all parties, in climate change and the environment. The Conservatives are very, very far behind Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens, on whatever policies they have on climate and environment. This assessment by The Guardian, and by Friends of the Earth, and by Greenpeace.
Conservatives and Brexit Party received donations worth £8m from aviation industry
‘Politicians cannot be trusted to protect the planet while they’re taking money from the biggest polluters,’ say climate protesters
By Jane Dalton @JournoJane (The Independent)
8th December 2019
The Brexit Party, the Conservative Party and their MPs have received donations worth £8m from the aviation industry, according to new analysis.
The boss of a jet fuel company who regularly donated to the Tories over a decade has given the Brexit Party £5.2m in the past six months, figures show.
Extinction Rebellion climate campaigners said the donations showed that politicians could not be “trusted to protect the planet while they’re taking money from the biggest polluters”.
Figures dating back over the past 18 years show that the Conservatives have accepted £2.8m from businesses and individuals linked to airlines.
Political parties and individual politicians have received gifts worth more than £9m in total, the analysis by DeSmog found.
Airports, airlines and aircraft manufacturers have made hundreds of contributions, either in cash or to cover MPs’ travel and airport parking costs, since the Electoral Commission’s online political finance database listings begin in 2001.
Of parliamentary candidates who were MPs when the election was called, Liam Fox, former trade secretary, received the most, the figures showed, with £19,000 worth of gifts from Virgin Atlantic and BAA.
Dr Fox, who has previously voted against measures to limit damaging carbon emissions, earlier this year said the government would continue to support the fossil fuel industry.
However, most donations to single MPs were made in 2001, and are understood to have been in the form of free airport parking, which ended that year.
Companies such as Airbus, Heathrow Airport and Virgin Atlantic were among donors, but the £5.2m to the Brexit Party came from Christopher Harborne, chief executive of AML Global, which sells aviation fuel, and of Sherriff Global Group, which deals in private planes.
Between 2001 and this year, he also gave the Tories more than £278,000.
Although Labour and Conservative MPs received gifts of similar sums – £679,000 and £647,000 respectively – when donations to their parties were added, the Tories received £2.85m, more than three times the total given to Labour of £900,000, the website highlighted.
The Liberal Democrats were the fourth-largest recipient party with £162,572 in donations.
Chris Ruane, a Welsh Labour MP, told DeSmog the two donations from BAA and Manchester Airport in 2001 that put him and others in joint fourth place among incumbent politicians related to an offer of free parking to all MPs that no longer exists.
“In common with all MPs at the time, I was given the facility of parking at UK airports, and to ensure I was open and honest, I chose to declare the maximum potential amount that this benefit could be worth. It does not reflect the actual usage of the benefit. This offer ceased in 2001.”
Sovereign Business Jets Ltd gave about £275,000 to the Conservatives, while National Express Airport Holdings gave £20,000 to Labour in 2005 and Manchester Airport Group gave £60,000 in 2002.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The next Labour government will lead the world in tackling the climate and environmental emergency with a plan to create a low-carbon economy with well-paid jobs we can be proud of.
“We’re investing all we can to forge a pathway to net zero by 2030 working with the scientific community and trade unions, making sure our plans are credible, realistic and don’t leave anyone behind.
“Just as the original industrial revolution brought cutting-edge industry and jobs to our towns, Labour’s world-leading green industrial revolution will create rewarding, well-paid jobs and whole new industries to revive parts of our country that have been neglected for too long.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “The Liberal Democrat manifesto sets out an ambitious plan to achieve net zero by 2045, which includes radical policies to reduce the climate impact of flying. Party policy is determined by members via working groups and at party conference.”
The Conservatives, Dr Fox’s office and the Brexit Party have been contacted for a comment but had not responded at the time of publication.