Fair Fuel UK
Category: Campaign Group
Fair Fuel UK is a Kent-based lobbying group that campaigns to reduce charges on diesel and petrol powered vehicles, most notably fuel duty. It claims to have the support of 140 MPs and “key media”, as well as 1.7 million members of the public.
The group has frequently cast doubt on the health impacts of air pollution and argues that diesel vehicles have been unfairly demonised. It strongly opposes charging Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and claims there are more effective solutions such as fuel additives and bioethanol, which campaigners have rejected as inadequate.
Fair Fuel says it has “saved drivers over £100bn in planned tax hikes in duty and VAT through constructive and objective campaigning” since 2010. It opposes what it calls the “perennial demonisation of van drivers, hauliers and motorists”, according to its website.
The group is led by motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson and political lobbyist Howard Cox.
The group’s most vocal supporter in parliament has been former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and Harlow MP Robert Halfon, who co-organised a petition against fuel duty rises with the group when it first launched in 2011.
In the 2019 general election, the group encouraged its supporters to vote for the Conservative Party, warning that a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party would bring in a “pathologically anti-motorist political era”.
APPG on Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers
Until the 2019 general election, Fair Fuel administered the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fair Fuel for Motorists and Hauliers, which aimed to “represent major issues that impact on UK drivers, from motorists to hauliers”. It listed examples including “fuel taxation, congestion and toxic charges, parking costs, roads investment, fairer treatment for diesel owners, solutions to lower emissions, cleaner fuel incentives and transparent pricing at the fuel pumps”.
The APPG was chaired by Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross and Labour, SNP, DUP and independent MPs all held named positions.
The SNP’s Westminster spokesperson on Energy and Climate Change Alan Brown was an Officer of the group, while the Conservative Chair of the parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight was one of 11 Vice Chairs.
It called for the creation of a consumer watchdog to monitor fuel prices at petrol stations, according to Fair Fuel’s website, which still promotes the campaign.
It also fundraises by selling vehicle stickers and has taken sponsorship from Ultimum5, a company that sells a fuel catalyst that it argues could be an “emissions solution” for internal combustion engines.
The group has previously received funding from the RAC, haulage industry body the Association of Pallet Networks, and Liquid Gas UK, a trade association for liquified petroleum gas and biopropane renewable gas companies.
The RAC told DeSmog it terminated its relationship with Fair Fuel “around four years ago” after it found its “views were not always aligned”.
Air Pollution Advocacy
Fair Fuel has frequently expressed doubt about the impacts of both air pollution and climate change.
It says on its website that “emotive and dubious air quality claims” are causing vehicles to lose resale value and describes emissions charging zones as being “based on flawed health data”, listing air quality policy as one of its three main campaigning areas.
Fair Fuel’s Quentin Willson has claimed air pollution is responsible for shortening life expectancy by only half a day per year in Europe, despite a recent study estimating the figure to be three years globally, and one and a half in the UK.
The group has also shared reports by the climate science-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation, while its founder Howard Cox has criticised the BBC for “worshipping at the altar of Greta Thunberg”, stating that the public needs to “hear both sides of the climate change argument”.
Fair Fuel opposes policies that involve charging high-polluting vehicles for entering certain parts of cities, including the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and what it calls “unnecessary” congestion zones.
It has also criticised clean air campaigners, calling the environmental law charity ClientEarth “rich” and “celebrity backed”, the activist group Extinction Rebellion “fanatical”, and the UK’s Green Party “uncompromising”.
Fair Fuel strongly criticised plans by Boris Johnson's government to increase walking and cycling in cities amid the coronavirus pandemic, claiming they would create “no go zones for the internal combustion engine”.
In a 2017 interview with ITV News, Fair Fuel UK founder Howard Cox claimed CAZs would have no effect on pollution levels.
He said nine out of ten respondents to polls conducted by the group “said they’ve got no choice but to continue driving. They’ve got to take this on the chin. What’s going to change? They will have to go to work and they’ll keep on doing that. So it won’t reduce emissions at all.”
Cox argued that diesel drivers were being “unfairly demonised” and “potentially being asked to take the tax burden for emissions in our cities, which is unwarranted.” He claimed “only 11% of NOx emissions come from diesel cars.”
Later in the news segment, Cox claimed that modern diesel vehicles were “very clean indeed” and that the latest Euro 6 standards were “very clean compared to the Euro 4s”. Research has found the latest diesel models still produce significant levels of pollution when tested in real-world conditions.
Fair Fuel says it supports “effective ways to lower emissions” but “not through tax hikes”.
It has recommended “alternative solutions” such as fuel additives, diesel particulate filters and bioethanol. These have been rejected as inadequate by clean transport campaigners and compared to “alchemists trying to turn lead into gold”.
Fair Fuel’s campaign against fuel duty increases, through which it claims to have saved drivers £100bn, has been described by the Guardian as “one of the most successful lobbying campaigns in modern political history, successfully diverting billions from the Treasury with barely a squeak”.
The campaign has been frequently covered by The Sun alongside the newspaper’s own “Keep it Down” campaign, which has similar aims. In 2020, it claimed credit for pressuring the government into cancelling a planned fuel duty rise in the upcoming Budget.
Fair Fuel claims that UK drivers are the “highest taxed motorists in the world” and has commissioned reports from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) into the impacts of fuel duty on the economy. A 2016 report claimed that a 3p cut in fuel duty would lead to a £1 billion boost to the economy and the creation of 8,000 jobs. CEBR describes itself as an independent economics consultancy, despite its founder and deputy chairman Douglas McWilliams congratulating FairFuel in March 2020 on keeping fuel duty frozen for the tenth consecutive year.
Key Arguments in Order of Prominence
- Car drivers are being unfairly targeted and only cause a small proportion of emissions
- Cutting fuel duty will create a boost for the economy and thousands of jobs
- The link between air pollution and health is exaggerated and being used to justify charging zones
- Diesel is being unfairly demonised
- The latest Euro 6 diesel vehicles are far cleaner than previous models
- Clean Air Zones will have no effect on pollution because people have to continue driving
- Alternative solutions such as fuel additives and bioethanol should be used instead of emissions charging
- The increase in the London congestion charge will destroy many small and medium sized businesses
Bath: Fair Fuel wrote a joint letter to the council opposing plans for a CAZ, together with the Road Haulage Association, the Alliance of British Drivers and the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The letter argued a CAZ could cause a decline in tourism and increase costs for taxis, coach companies and hauliers, leading to job losses and businesses “going bust”. It also stated that CAZs had been “shown to be ineffective, economically damaging and regressive” and suggested a tram system could be a better solution to tackling air pollution.
Leeds: Fair Fuel tweeted in 2018 that a planned CAZ in Leeds could “put Leeds hauliers out of business”.
London: quoted in The Sun, Fair Fuel’s Howard Cox criticised Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s decision to increase the congestion charge following the easing of coronavirus lockdown rules in May 2020.
Cox described the move as a “chronic anti-driver policy” that would “kill off many of London’s struggling small and medium sized businesses, the haulage industry, van distributors and hardworking motorists”.
Fair Fuel’s Quentin Willson has previously argued that private car drivers are being unfairly targeted in London, describing them as a “relatively narrow band of polluters at 11 percent of NOx [nitrogen oxides]”. Official figures show more than three quarters of roadside NOx concentrations, where most people come into contact with poor air quality, are caused by road transport.
March 5, 2020
Fair Fuel released a poll, covered by The Sun, showing that nearly half of drivers who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election would abandon the party at the next election if fuel duty was increased at the upcoming Budget.
June 28, 2017
Fair Fuel’s Quentin Willson wrote an article for London’s Evening Standard arguing that car drivers were being targeted despite only being a “relatively narrow band of polluters at 11% of NOx”. He also called for an “Air Quality Working Party, free from vested interests, to scientifically determine where the greatest levels of particulate and nitrogen dioxide pollutants really come from and how to reduce them in the short to medium term”.