Conservative MPs are calling for the financier Ben Goldsmith to be sacked from his role at the Environment Department after he expressed support for the activist group Extinction Rebellion.
Mr Goldsmith – who has been a non-executive board member at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2018 – posted a tweet earlier this morning criticising Labour’s call for injunctions against ‘Just Stop Oil’ (JSO) protests, which have caused chaos at petrol stations.
“Not a good look from Labour,” he said. “The protesters are right to be doing whatever it takes to wake people up. The fossil fuel industry is grubby and dangerous. We need to unhook ourselves from our dependence asap. I’m with Extinction Rebellion.”
Hundreds of people have been detained since the JSO and affiliated activists began their action on 1 April – with more than 350 arrested at Grays in Essex alone, amid police complaints of “exceptionally dangerous” tactics by activists.
Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said: “This from a Conservative official is an insult to people facing misery trying to get to work.
“While the government continues to refuse to act, Labour has called for immediate injunctions to put a stop to this disruption.”
Mr Goldsmith’s tweet has now been deleted, and he posted a new statement retracting his previous comments.
“This morning I tweeted in a personal capacity my sympathies for the Extinction Rebellion protests. Support of ER is neither a Conservative Environmental Network nor a DEFRA position. I have therefore retracted these tweets,” he said.
“I recognise the disruption these protests are causing to people’s lives and livelihoods. I’ve always previously stood publicly opposed to the controversial and often bonkers methods employed by Extinction Rebellion.”
It follows an outcry amongst some Tory MPs in response to his original post.
Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset, accused Mr Goldsmith of “inappropriately interfering in political matters”, adding “he should either resign and stand for election or be sacked by [Environment Secretary] George Eustice.”
On a WhatsApp group used by backbench Conservatives, Fay Jones, the MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said the statement was “unbelievable” given Mr Goldsmith’s position as a non-executive board member.
Former cabinet minister Damian Green wrote, “surely he can’t stay on after that”.
Responding to Mr Goldsmith’s tweet, a government source said: “Ben expressed a personal view – not that of the Government. People have the right to protest, and the issue of climate change is very important – that’s why we’re taking such ambitious action to tackle it.”
“But, these XR protests are not peaceful protests – they are disrupting people’s lives and it is wholly unacceptable. That’s why the Government is taking robust action to stop them.”
A spokesman for the Conservative Environment Network also welcomed the retraction, saying the group had “consistently opposed the terrible tactics deployed by protesters intent on playing havoc.”
It comes as Extinction Rebellion continued their protests on Tuesday, blocking all entrances to the Lloyds of London HQ in the City of London, with staff being forced to work elsewhere.
The group said more than 60 activists had been at the central London building since 7am to stop staff from entering the site in the hopes of closing the business for the day.
It added that it is demanding that Lloyd’s of London stops insuring fossil fuels projects.
City of London Police said it is “aware of groups of protesters at Liverpool Street Station and the Lloyd’s building on Lime Street” and that officers have arrived on the scene.
On Sunday, activists blocked cars and buses from passing through Vauxhall Bridge, after a smaller group was cleared from Lambeth Bridge earlier in the day.
The Metropolitan Police said it had imposed conditions under section 14 on the climate group at the junction of Millbank, Vauxhall Bridge Road and Grosvenor Road, as well as on the south side of the bridge and Vauxhall Bus Station.