American climate science denying pressure groups the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Heritage Foundation joined forces with British campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) at the Conservative Party Conference this week.
At the fringe event on 3 October in Birmingham the groups discussed how the UK and the US could “move forward together” now that Britain had voted to exit the European Union.
They agreed that Brexit presented a new opportunity for a free trade deal between the UK and US to minimise “regulatory hurdles that you have to jump over in order to trade or offer services in the other country.”
On the panel, hosted by the TPA’s chief executive John O'Connell, were: Ted Bromund, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, MEP Nirj Deva, Kerry Halferty-Hardy and Iain Murray of the CEI, and Allie Renison from the Institute of Directors.
The CEI, Heritage Foundation, and TPA are united by their neoliberal belief in limited government intervention; they all strongly support Britain leaving the EU and share a common disdain for top-down climate change policy.
This emerging alliance between the UK Brexiteers and US neocon climate science denial groups is one which DeSmog UK has reported on previously. Mapping out the Brexit climate denier web has shown how prominent Brexit campaigners and those now in top government positions have been courting groups such as the CEI and the Heritage Foundation.
And it seems they are now tightening their links even more. Not only did they host this fringe event, but their messages of unrestricted free trade and anti-regulation have run like a thread through this week’s party conference.
‘No Point’ in Environmental Policy
The Heritage Foundation’s Bromund told the audience he “[doesn’t] really see the point” in UK climate policy: “What the UK does is an irrelevance in terms of carbon emissions. It really doesn’t matter. The increasing emissions in China and India are going to utterly swamp whatever meaningless and miniscule cuts you make.”
This claim came despite both India and China having ratified the Paris Agreement in the weeks before the party conference.
“In fact you’re off sourcing all your carbon emissions through increased imports,” he said. “You’re cutting here but you’re buying more carbon from abroad. This is an example of the sort of fetishistic [sic] focus on an issue that has zero relevance in the UK.”
His final statement on the issue, that “It exists entirely to make yourself feel good about yourselves” was received by the audience with claps and laughter.
The points made at the fringe event help give an indication of what these organisations might lobby the British government for in the near future. Namely, a ‘freer’ trade deal.
Before the EU referendum, Britain – as a part of the EU – was discussing a potential trade deal with the US, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The bi-lateral agreement focussed on reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, including food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. Environmentalists claimed TTIP would ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy.
After the EU referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, TTIP negotiations have all but collapsed. Unsurprisingly, the speakers at this fringe event did not perceive a future trade deal to be an opportunity to protect the environment.
Bromund outlined his vision for a future trade deal between the two countries, one that would be shaped by lessons learned from TTIP, which “promised relatively few economic gains” and “overpromised and under delivered”.
Bromund called for a future deal to be the “simplest” it can be. “Let’s not promise too much,” he said.
“We should all be able to agree on the elimination of all tariffs and all quotas for Anglo-American trade. Britain as a natural importer has much more to gain from freer trade than the EU and agricultural exporters.”
The EU, however, has stricter environmental regulations on food than the US, having banned such products as genetically modified crops and chemically washed poultry that are still at large across the Atlantic. A ‘simpler’ trade deal might see these products creep back into the UK.
Fox on Trade
The man in charge of Britain’s future trade deals is International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. And as it happens, Bromund’s colleague Luke Coffey, a director at the Heritage Foundation, is a former special advisor to Fox, a prominent Brexit campaigner who was forced to resign as Defence Secretary in 2011.
Fox’s speech to the conference on Monday 3 October was littered with praise for what he has coined 'post-geography', unrestricted free trade. He said: “I believe that free, fair, and open trade is as fundamental to the prosperity of the United Kingdom and the world economy today as it has ever been.”
But, as James Murray, editor of the website Business Green, pointed out, unregulated free trade often comes hand in hand with greater freedom to impinge on the environment. He tweeted: “I'm a big fan of free trade, but how free do they mean? Free to pollute, to poison, to mislead customers? That's what most regs are for.”
Other Sceptics at the Conference
These groups were not the only climate science or climate policy sceptics present at the conference.
The Bruges Group, which rejects the 97 per cent majority of scientific opinion that global warming is manmade, hosted a talk on Monday about Brexit. The group, which campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, used the session to congratulate themselves on achieving their desired EU referendum result.
And on Monday evening, in an auditorium located on Gas Street, UK 2020 hosted a talk about the “fantastic opportunity” for the environment presented by Brexit. The think tank was established by former environment secretary Owen Paterson and includes coal mine owner and climate science denier Matt Ridley as its policy advisor.
In the past Paterson has given a speech to the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and has been called out by academics for claiming that over the last past 35 “the earth’s atmosphere has warmed nothing like as fast as forecast” and in the last 18 years “has not warmed at all”.
But at this talk he was less forthright than before. He dodged a question about whether he thought manmade climate change was responsible for flooding in Britain, saying: “I’m not fussed where the climate changes come from. The climate is changing the whole time. We have to manage water. Fact.”
Perhaps his caution stemmed from the fact his successor as environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, had that day made clear her stance on climate change. She said in her conference address: “Building resilience is key to the success of the rural economy – and nowhere more so than in protecting our communities from the impacts of increasingly extreme weather. None of us will forget the harrowing images of last winter’s floods.”
So while the majority of cabinet ministers seem to be persuaded by the science of climate change, the grip of those Conservatives who don’t seems not to be loosening any time soon.
Photo: Victoria Seabrook