A letter to the prime minister

The government has said it will cease engagement with Greenpeace following our peaceful protest last week. Greenpeace UK's co-executive directors Areeba Hamid and Will McCallum have sent this response to Rishi Sunak.


Dear Prime Minister,

We were saddened to hear – via newspaper reports – of your Government’s decision to cease engagement with Greenpeace following our peaceful protest last week.

While we appreciate you might not be pleased with us covering your Yorkshire house in 200 square metres of oil-black fabric to protest against the Government’s policy to expand oil and gas extraction, your response to stonewall further communication sends a worrying signal about the Government’s commitment to climate action, as well as the future of our democracy. We remain keen to meet with you to discuss solutions for reducing the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels while tackling the cost of living crisis that so many people across the country are facing.

Constructive engagement

Greenpeace has a proud history of peaceful protest and constructive engagement with politicians of all stripes across the world – from Brazil to Belgium, China and Chile. As a non-party political organisation, many government ministers, including from your own party, have recognised over the years that our role is to hold those in power to account and to push for policies that help to deliver a greener and fairer world.

But the reality is that your Government has adopted more and more of a bunker mentality over the last few years – reflected through your Departments’ growing reluctance to engage with Greenpeace and, we understand, with civil society as a whole, alongside a sustained attack on the right to protest through damaging laws and policies introduced under your watch.

Undermining robust policy-making

Cutting us off, alongside other elements of civil society advocating for policy in the public interest, undermines the Government’s capacity for robust policy-making and, as the Chief Executive of Amnesty International UK recently said, “potentially provides succour to those around the world who want to crack down on the role and voice of civil society in vital policy areas.”

Ministers and civil servants have historically drawn fruitfully from the knowledge and expertise held by a range of groups working on complex issues over many years – from preserving tropical rainforests, to illegal fishing on the High Seas, or speeding up the global renewables rollout.

Cutting us off also makes the Government increasingly disconnected from the overwhelming public concern about the climate and nature crisis – reflected through the ongoing wave of climate activism across the UK, and the millions of supporters who we continue to represent, not to mention the consistent polling showing that a vast majority of the UK public wants urgent action. The impacts of the environmental emergency are not in some far-off future, but here and now, filling our TV screens with the horrifying images of people fleeing from flooding and wildfires around the world.

Undue influence from polluters

Blocking engagement also increases the risk of undue influence from corporate polluters, who currently have significantly more access to Ministers than civil society and activist groups.

Your spokesperson is reported to have said, “we obviously don’t think that people who are accused of breaking the law should have a seat at the table in discussions with the government.” The irony is not lost on us that over a six-month period alone, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and formerly the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, met with BP and Shell 12 and 11 times respectively.

This is despite both companies’ repeated history of unlawful activities. Shell’s subsidiary was found responsible for two major oil spills in Nigeria by the Hague Court of Appeal last year, and in 2021 there was a finding by a Dutch court that Shell was aware for decades of the dangerous consequences of CO2 emissions and its targets remained insufficiently robust. Meanwhile BP pleaded guilty in 2012 to criminal misconduct in the worst US offshore oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon disaster. There are many more examples.

Burying your head in the sand will not make the climate crisis go away

Whether you continue to engage with Greenpeace or not, burying your head in the sand will not make the climate crisis go away.

Nor will it change the fact that your own climate advisors, the International Energy Agency, the UN Secretary General and Conservative MPs, including the UK’s former president of COP26, have all supported the science-based call for an immediate end to new oil and gas drilling to stand a chance of containing global warming to agreed limits.

Far from lowering energy bills or boosting our energy security, all new oil and gas drilling will do is further line the pockets of oil companies who are responsible for the environmental crisis we are facing. Workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel-based sectors deserve support through this period of transition, not false hopes about an industry which is inevitably in decline. Right now, as new green technologies are taking off across the globe, the UK Government must seize this opportunity and the green jobs it offers before it’s too late.

Our door remains open

As an organisation with more than fifty years’ experience working for environmental protection, we urge you to stand up for the right to protest, and to listen not just to Greenpeace but to the plethora of scientists, energy experts, civil society groups and the majority of the public urging bolder action to protect the climate. Failure to do so not only risks the Conservatives losing many votes at the next election, but it’ll cost us all if you ignore the devastating realities of the climate crisis.

Our door remains open for discussion on any and all of the issues on which we continue to campaign – we would welcome the opportunity to discuss, with you or any of your Ministers, ambitious solutions to the environmental crisis we are facing.

Yours sincerely,

Areeba Hamid and Will McCallum
Co-Executive Directors, Greenpeace UK

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