A prominent London thinktank has been censured by the Charity Commission for explicitly lobbying for a hard Brexit.
The commission said the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) had breached rules regarding political activity, which are meant to prevent charities campaigning on issues outside of their charitable remit.
The IEA is officially registered as an educational charity. The commission ruled that the IEA's ‘Plan A+’ report was “calling for a change in government policy and for a particular approach to the UK’s exit from the European Union”, which “does not further educational purposes, and so constitutes a breach”.
The 147-page report aimed to offer an alternative plan to Theresa May’s Chequers deal, which was resoundingly rejected by parliament in January 2019. The plan called on the government to cut EU environmental regulations to secure free-trade deals with the US, China and India after Brexit.
In its ruling, the Charity Commission criticised the IEA for the tone of the Plan A+ report, saying it “did not invite the reader to make up his or her own mind, and instead presented one proposal for the way that Brexit should be achieved”.
The Plan A+ report was authored by Shanker Singham, Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit at the IEA and a former Washington lobbyist with ties to organisations known for promoting climate science denial.
In July 2018, Singham was caught alongside IEA Director Mark Littlewood in an undercover sting by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed, talking about how the organisation’s reports could be written to suit donors’ agendas.
Providing a Platform
The Charity Commission also censured the IEA for an event it held promoting the report on 24 September 2018, which included providing “a platform for parliamentarians known to publicly and vocally support a particular outcome from the UK’s exit from the European Union”.
The launch was attended by Tory MPs David Davis and Boris Johnson, who both resigned thier cabinet posts over objections to the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy. The Plan A+ report was also backed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a high-profiile figure in European Research Group, which is lobbying within parliament for a hard Brexit.
“By holding such an event in the public spotlight, the charity was engaging in campaigning and lobbying activity that is not sufficiently connected to its educational purposes”, the commission concluded.
The IEA removed the Plan A+ report from its website in November 2018, following a warning from the Charity Commission.
The commission has now asked the IEA to implement a new peer-review process to ensure all future reports meet regulatory guidelines, and provide it with assurances it will not engage in inappropriate campaigning activities again.
The IEA said it was “disappointed” by the ruling. Responding to the judgement, IEA chair Neil Record said:
“The IEA is considering a range of options, as we believe this warning has extremely widespread and worrying implications for the whole of the thinktank and educational charity sector.”
“A precedent is being set: research papers – and their launches – which put forward policy proposals may now fall outside the parameters of what the Charity Commission considers acceptable activity.”
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