The UK’s new business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, accepted substantial donations from fossil fuel investors and advisers as part of his 2019 general election campaign, despite the government’s commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Kwarteng was energy minister until earlier this month, when he was promoted to secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. He replaced Alok Sharma, who has now taken full-time responsibility for the UK’s hosting of this year’s UN climate talks, Cop26.
In the 2019 election campaign, Kwarteng received £16,000 from companies and individuals with a direct interest in fossil fuels, and a further £4,500 from companies that advise on or facilitate trading in fossil fuels.
The donations, according to the MPs’ register of interests, included £7,500 from IPGL, a holding company with a 40% stake in Cluff Energy Africa, a London-based company that prospects for oil in west Africa. IPGL is owned by the former Conservative party treasurer Michael Spencer, and donated £48,000 to Conservative MPs, of whom Kwarteng received the highest single amount.
He also received £4,000 from Majid Jafar, chief executive of Crescent Petroleum, a privately held company with oil and gas operations in the Middle East, and a board member of Dana Gas. A further £4,500 came from Helios Investment Partners, whose portfolio includes Eland Oil and Gas, Impact Oil and Gas, Vivo Energy and Africa Oil Corp.
In addition to these donations, Kwarteng accepted £2,500 from Capital Generation Partners, which advises on investments including fossil fuels, and £2,000 from CQS, an asset management firm that facilitates trades in fossil fuel interests among other commodities.
Labour has called on Kwarteng to give back the donations. Alan Whitehead, the shadow energy and green new deal minister, said: “Ministers should not accept money from donors where there is a clear conflict of interest, and I hope he will pay it back. Our democracy should never be up for sale to Tory donors.”
A spokesperson for Kwarteng said there was no conflict of interest and that all donations were in line with the ministerial code. “For the past 18 months, as energy minister, Mr Kwarteng led work to develop the energy white paper – this government’s plan to fully decarbonise our energy system, phase out fossil fuels and end the UK’s contribution to climate change. Any suggestion Mr Kwarteng is somehow not committed to the green agenda is manifestly false,” they said.
A spokesperson for Helios said: “The donation was not made by Helios Investment Partners. It was made by Babatunde Soyoye, co-managing partner at Helios in his personal capacity when Kwasi Kwarteng was running for re-election at the last parliamentary elections in 2019. It was inadvertently recorded as Helios as this is also the same postal address for Mr Soyoye. We are in the process of requesting this to be corrected.”
A spokesperson for Capital Generation Partners also denied the donation, which appears in the MPs’ register of interests, saying: “Capital Generation Partners has not made any donation to any political figure or party.”
Kwarteng will bear much of the responsibility for putting the UK on track to meet the government’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Last autumn, Boris Johnson set out a 10-point plan, including massive investment in offshore wind, new nuclear power and an overhaul of infrastructure, and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has set out plans for a new emissions trading scheme, of which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will take charge.
The UK is not on track to meet its carbon budget targets, and experts have said much more interventionist policy from government and higher investment will be required to put the UK on a path to net zero. Kwarteng belonged to the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, which takes a strongly free-market stance, calling for drastic reductions in the regulation of business. He was co-author of Britannia Unchained, a 2012 manifesto alleging that Britain, whose people were “among the worst idlers in the world”, suffered from a “bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation” and needed a bonfire of red tape.
Green campaigners also raised concerns over the business secretary’s links to fossil fuel interests. Connor Schwartz, climate lead at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s clearly a concern that the new business secretary, [in] one of the most important roles in government for responding to the climate emergency, has received money from fossil fuel interests. It’s essential ministers take bold decisions to bring down emissions and create good, green jobs across the country, but how can people be sure they will do that if they’ve been aided in getting elected by money from oil and gas?”