Mapped: Whistleblower Accuses Nine Organisations of Colluding over Hard Brexit

Read time: 6 mins

Nine right-wing organisations including think tanks pushing disinformation about climate change have been accused of mounting a coordinated campaign to push for a hard Brexit, according to court documents.

Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, formerly of youth campaign group BeLeave, claims that think tanks and campaign groups held regular meeting at 55 Tufton Street — an office close to Westminster and home to the climate science denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation — to “agree on a single set of right-wing talking points” and “securing more exposure to the public”.

Some of the topics discussed allegedly included “new policy announcement by the Labour Party, developments in the Brexit negotiations, or any other political news story”.

The accusations were made in documents from an employment tribunal setting out Sanni’s case  against pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which he has accused of unfair dismissal after he spoke out about illegal behaviour at Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign group.

According to Sanni’s claim, the organisations involved in this right-wing campaign for media coverage include the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the officer of Peter Whittle, the former deputy leader of UKIP, Civitas, the Adam Smith Institute, Leave Means Leave, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Brexit Central, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Institute for Economic Affairs.  

As DeSmog UK previously reported, these organisations have strong ties with Tory MPs and Cabinet members and are working together to advocate for deregulation and a hard-Brexit.

Sanni filed a lawsuit against the TaxPayers’ Alliance the day after the Electoral Commission published findings that Vote Leave had broke electoral spending laws during the EU referendum by funneling money to BeLeave.

Responding to the suit, the Taxpayers’ Alliance told the Guardian that it “acted at all times in a fair and correct manner and we reject (and will be defending) the claims Mr Sanni has made”. The group declined to comment further because of the ongoing legal proceedings.

Revolving Doors

Sanni’s claim also emphasised how the organisations based around 55 Tufton Street had revolving doors between the groups for employees.

Matthew Elliott, the former head of the Vote Leave campaign group, which was based at 55 Tufton Street, is also the co-founder and former CEO of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and now works as the editor-at-large of Brexit Central, both organisations which work out of 55 Tufton Street.

Elliott is also a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute, another free-market think tank which has been described as “the most influential think tank in the country” providing extensive advice to the government on Brexit issues.

The Legatum Institute’s key lobbyist Shanker Singham, now director of international trade at the Institute for Economic Affairs, has strong ties to the US climate science denial lobby, and has slotted neatly into a network of transatlantic climate science deniers pushing for a hard Brexit.

Sanni’s claim states that although he was employed with the TaxPayers’ Alliance, he had initially applied for a job with Brexit Central for the role of deputy editor. While Elliott and Brexit Central editor Jonathan Isaby interviewed Sanni, he was offered a role with the TaxPayers’ Alliance for which, at the time, neither Elliott nor Isaby were officially working.

A number of staff from the Vote Leave campaign have also gone on to work for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, including former development director of Vote Leave, John O’Connell, now CEO of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Chloe Westley a senior team member of Vote Leave is now the group’s campaign manager and Vote Leave’s regional director for Yorkshire and the Humber Tom Banks, shorlty worked for the group's grassroots campaign.

Climate science deniers

Included in this network of organisations pushing for a hard Brexit is the UK’s premier climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Founded by prominent climate science denier Nigel Lawson, the group aims to fight back against what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to mitigate climate change.

Despite disputing the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate science, the GWPF still has a voice in Parliament.

Both Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton Graham Stringer and Tory MP for North Shropshire Owen Paterson have strong ties with the GWPF as well as three Tory members of the House of Lords including Peter Lilley, Matt Ridley and Nigel Vinson.

Lilley’s also sits on “a committee of experts” closely advising international trade secretary Liam Fox, DeSmog UK previously revealed.

Lilley is a supporter of the European Research Group (ERG). Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG is lobbying for a hard Brexit and has been described by Buzzfeed as “an aggressive, disciplined, and highly organised parliamentary and media operation”. Former Brexit minister, Steve Baker, is a past chair of the group.

Hard Brexit

The ERG has grabbed media attention over the last few months over its influence on the Brexit negotiations and for crushing Theresa May’s short-lived soft Brexit plan agreed by her cabinet during a meeting at Chequers earlier this month.

Following the vote, leading pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry warned May that she was “no longer in charge” and that Rees-Mogg and the ERG were “running the country”.

Some of the group’s most influential supporters include prominent members of May’s cabinet.

Newly appointed Brexit minister Dominic Raab and environment secretary Michael Gove were active supporters of the group before being promoted to cabinet roles while international trade secretary Liam Fox has also used the ERG to gather support among MPs.

Tory MP John Redwood, former environment secretary Owen Paterson and new peer Peter Lilley are also members of the ERG and notable climate science deniers.

Cabinet ministers

The influence of the 55 Tufton Street network reaches all the way into May’s cabinet.

Brexit minister Raab, and newly appointed health secretary Matt Hancock both are connected to the Tufton Street network through the Institute for Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank that pushes for deregulation and refuses to reveal where its funding comes from.

Environmental secretary Gove also has strong ties to the Tufton Street hub through his involvement with the Vote Leave campaign and think tank the New Culture Forum, while International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been a strong supporter of Grassroot Outs, a pro-Brexit campaign group that sprung out of infighting between Vote Leave and Nigel Farage and Arron Banks’ Leave.EU.

Grassroots Out was also supported by DUP MP and climate science denier, Sammy Wilson. The Conservatives and DUP signed a ‘supply and confidence’ pact to provide Theresa May’s government with additional votes on key issues.