Wednesday, February 8, 2023
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US groups raise millions to support rightwing UK thinktanks

Millions of dollars has been raised from anonymous US donors to support British rightwing thinktanks that are among the most prominent in the Brexit debate. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange and the Legatum Institute have all received financial support from US backers via this route. The charitable status of the thinktanks requires them to remain non-partisan, and they all insist they have not taken a line as institutions on whether the UK should leave the EU. However, they have published or contributed to policy papers that advocate a Brexit deal that makes a clean break from European regulations. It also called for opening all services to competition, including the health service, scrapping many of the EU regulations on data protection, pharmaceuticals and food safety and chemicals, and reducing taxes. Undercover filming by Greenpeace this year recorded Michael Carnuccio, the head of an Oklahoma-based libertarian thinktank, the E Foundation, saying his organisation was planning to pour cash into the IEA. In response, the IEA said it did not recognise the sums of money being suggested by the E Foundation and it had not received any cash from US businesses in relation to its work on trade and Brexit. After the disclosures, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the IEA to examine concerns about its political independence. It is unclear how much of the money raised by the American entities is passed to the British thinktanks, due to the secrecy surrounding the donors. The Adam Smith Institute has raised $1.4m from American donors since 2008.

Thinktank faces double investigation after ‘cash for access’ claims

The Institute of Economic Affairs is facing two official investigations after it emerged that the thinktank offered potential US donors access to UK government ministers as it raised cash for research to promote free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters. The two investigations were announced following an undercover investigation by Unearthed, an arm of Greenpeace, which found that in May the IEA arranged for US donors who pledged to donate £35,000 to have a private meeting with Steve Baker MP, when he was Brexit minister. It also emerged on Monday that the casino industry donated £8,000 to the IEA after it published a report calling for more casinos. It said no one outside the think tank saw a draft of the casino report or made any changes prior to publication. The thinktank’s director, Mark Littlewood, had previously told Unearthed’s undercover investigator that a donor could fund and shape “substantial content” in research reports commissioned by the IEA, that would support calls for a free-trade deal between the UK and the US. The IEA denies it has breached charity law. A former board member of the Charity Commission, Andrew Purkis, also said the regulator should be worried that the IEA’s director told undercover investigators that the thinktank was “in the Brexit influencing game”. In July it launched a £50,000 prize for ideas about harnessing the free market to solve the UK’s housing crisis. Responding to the Greenpeace investigation, Purkis said: “Offering donor access to ministers is a practice more closely associated with commercial lobbying/PR companies or raising funds for political parties rather than charities, but charity fundraisers do quite frequently offer donors access to their patrons and celebrity supporters. Educational charities should not be promoting an ideology.” He continued: “The reference to donors being able to influence ‘substantial content’, though not conclusions, adds to the worries that the public’s trust and confidence in charities as existing solely for the public benefit can be endangered if charity reports are perceived to be ‘substantially influenced’ by big donors – who may represent particular private interests and whose identity, in the case of IEA, is often secret.”

Rightwing UK thinktank ‘offered ministerial access’ to potential US donors

A rightwing thinktank has been offering potential US donors access to government ministers and civil servants as it raises cash for research to support the free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters, according to an investigation. The director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was secretly recorded telling an undercover reporter that funders could get to know ministers on first-name terms and that his organisation was in “the Brexit influencing game”. In July it launched a £50,000 prize for ideas about harnessing the free market to solve the UK’s housing crisis. The recordings include discussions between Littlewood and the reporter in which the IEA director sets out the potential benefits of funding work by the thinktank. These foods are currently banned in the UK: Chlorine-washed chicken (banned in the EU). Hormone-treated beef (banned in the EU). Food colourants (banned in the UK, regulated in the EU). She said he only ever had meetings “on merit”, adding: “We would not want any ambiguity whatsoever to exist on this point.” Littlewood claimed the IEA also arranged for Link, and the director of an Oklahoma business thinktank, to go to the Department for International Trade, Fox’s department, where they met a senior civil servant. Davis, Baker and Lord Callanan, a Brexit minister, all recorded meetings with the IEA in the first three months of this year. The IEA has argued that Greenpeace should not have charitable status because it serves “no public purpose” and has accused it of opposing GM rice “that could prevent the deaths of more than 2 million children a year”.