Britain’s Conservative Party received £651,000 from the aviation industry between April and June this year, amid doubts over the government’s commitment to cutting emissions from the sector.
DeSmog analysis of official documents showed the gifts included £515,000 from Christopher Harborne, the owner of a major aviation fuel company who donated millions to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
The boss of British low-cost airline Jet2 and the owner of four English regional airports also contributed.
Green MP Caroline Lucas said the results showed the Tories were ‘in the pockets of an industry responsible for significant and growing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions’.
The data showed aviation was the third largest sector in terms of donations, with finance contributing £1.8million and property £717,000 over the same period.
Campaigners said the aviation-related donations looked like ‘sweeteners’ from a sector that has largely escaped regulation over its climate impacts, and suggested the money would have been better invested in efforts to reduce corporate emissions.
The Conservative government supports the expansion of many airports across the country, although its expert climate advisers warn that no ‘net’ expansion of airports can occur if the country’s 2050 net zero target is to be met , unless the sector is “on track to sufficiently outperform” its current trajectory.
In July, the government announced its ‘Jet Zero Strategy’, which aims to cut UK aviation emissions to net zero by 2050 and allow travelers to fly ‘guilt-free’.
The policy, which supports the continued growth of aviation, has been dismissed as “pure greenwash” by environmental groups, who question the viability of the proposed technologies and solutions. In the same month, the High Court ruled that the government’s net zero strategy failed to meet its obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008.
Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak was criticized last year by climate campaigners for cutting domestic flight taxes in half, a move that is expected to result in up to 400,000 more trips each year.
Sunak defended the tax cut, announced shortly before the UK hosted the UN’s COP26 climate talks, saying he supported regional airports.
Aviation emissions accounted for 8% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions before the pandemic, according to official figures.
The biggest of the aviation donations, released by the Electoral Commission, came from Harborne, who donated half a million in May and then another £15,000 the following month.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Harborne owns AML Global, an aviation fuel supplier that operates in “more than 1,200 locations worldwide.” He is also the CEO of Sheriff Global Group, which markets private jets, according to Politics Home.
Harborne, who uses a different identity while working from Thailand, where he is based, has a history of supporting right-wing politicians hostile to climate change action.
In 2019 Harborne donated £9.7m to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – now Reform UK – and earlier this year paid a £2,000 ticket to a Tory fundraising gala on behalf of Steve Baker, a trustee of Britain’s leading climate science denial group until his appointment last week as minister for Northern Ireland.
Harborne has donated more than £15million to UK Conservatives and Reformists in total since 2001, with the majority donated since 2018.
Another notable aviation donor was the Rigby Group, which gave £25,000 in April, having donated £200,000 to the Conservative Party since 2017.
The group owns the regional airports of Bournemouth, Coventry, Exeter and Norwich, and operates Solent Airport Daedalus, an airfield in Hampshire, on behalf of its owners.
The business was founded by entrepreneur Sir Peter Rigby, who has a combined value, with his two sons who also run the business, of £804million, according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List.
Phillip Meeson, executive chairman of low-cost airline Jet2, donated £5,000 in cash with £3,900 recorded as “auction prizes”.
Bridgemere, a business group owned by construction tycoon Steve Morgan which advertises a private jet for hire on its website as part of its business, donated £62,500 in May.
The Tories also received £33,743 from Knaresborough Aviation LLP, an airline based in Yorkshire.
A donation worth £5,405 from Boeing has also been recorded by Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP who chairs Parliament’s defense select committee, for a ‘fact-finding visit to aerospace defense factories’.
“Not a good look”
Lucas, the Green MP, said: “Government aviation policy over the past few months has been nothing short of a pie-in-the-sky greenwash, and now we know why – the party Conservative is in the pockets of an industry responsible for vast and growing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The climate emergency cannot be solved without tackling aviation emissions. If this government refuses to act, by adopting policies such as a frequent flyer tax so that those who fly the most pay the most, it must make way for whoever does,” she added.
Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said: “The aviation industry is – to say the least – not in a good position to reach net zero by 2050, and that does not It has not been helped by the fact that it has so far been successful in avoiding most of the climate policies and emissions pricing strategies in place for other sectors.
“Overcoming technological barriers to deliver carbon-free carbon theft and disposal technologies is going to require massive private investment, as well as government action to ensure this is actually delivered,” Hewitt said.
“At a time when the aviation industry is seeking government approval for airport expansion and alternative fuels funding, these ‘donations’ can’t help but sound like sweeteners. It would be nice if aviation companies started investing their profits in decarbonization rather than donating to political parties. »
Matt Finch, UK policy manager at Transport & Environment, said: ‘It’s not a good look for the Tories. The Jet Zero strategy was not a good strategy – the British Air Force was happy with it, as it essentially meant the status quo for them. If it is difficult to affirm that these gifts influenced the decisions of the ministers, the suspicion will always be there.
A Conservative Party spokesperson told DeSmog: “Government policy is in no way influenced by party donations – they are entirely separate.
“Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently reported to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them, and are fully in accordance with the law.”
Christopher Harborne and the Rigby Group have been contacted for comment.
Additional research by Michaela Hermann.