Atlantic Bridge

The Atlantic Bridge

Background

The Atlantic Bridge Research and Education Scheme – better known simply as the Atlantic Bridge – was founded in 1997 in the UK by Liam Fox, former Defence Secretary and current International Trade Secretary.

With Margaret Thatcher as its president, the neoconservative think tank’s aim was to promote Atlanticism – a “special relationship” between the UK and United States. A key funder of Atlantic Bridge was Michael Hintze, the billionaire hedge fund manager, Conservative party donor, philanthropist, and supporter of the climate science denila group Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by former Thatcher chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson.

In 2003, the group became a registered charity with the stated aims: “…..The furtherance of public education on both sides of the Atlantic, in areas of common interest, focusing particularly but not exclusively on free trade, economics, health and science. Research into relations between Europe and North America and their implications for the international community with the aim to raise cultural awareness and improve links’.”

In 2007, the group established a special partnership with free-market lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), known for producing template pieces of legilsation that reduce protections for the environment and other anti-regulation efforts. At the same time, ALEC set up a sister charity in the US – also known as Atlantic Bridge.

Even though the Atlantic Bridge Project (USA) and the Atlantic Bridge Group (UK) were different organisations, they operated extremely closely together, promoting links between US and UK based conservatives, and paying for flights and expenses for Liam Fox and other senior Tories to take trips across the Atlantic. Accounts for 2007 for Atlantic Bridge Group state that the “two entities have been set up to mutually support each others aims.”

As the Guardian described:

To outsiders, the charity may have appeared to be little more than a social club, keen to throw a party in New York to promote Hague's book on William Wilberforce or hold a dinner for 14 in parliament's Club Room – an apparent breach of parliamentary rules. But the group's members were deeply serious in their beliefs, and Fox was more than happy to promote his neoconservative leanings when abroad.”

The group operated until September 2011 when it was dissolved following a Charity Commission investigation prompted by political blogger Stephen Newton.

In July 2010, the Charity Commission ruled that Atlantic Bridge had been undertaking overly political work – as it put it: “Although it is legitimate for a charity to study, research or educate the public about the ‘Special Relationship’, it is not permissible for a charity to promote a particular pre-determined point of view.”

According to the Guardian, the charity's address was given as Fox's office in the House of Commons.

And as Carbon Brief reported: “The ruling (removed from the Charity Commission’s website but obtainable from them on request) stated that “the Charity’s current activities must cease immediately” and that it needed to make a “clear separation” from Atlantic Bridge Inc (set up by ALEC) in the US.”

Membership

The think tank included several senior Conservative Party politicians including Michael Gove, George Osborne, William Hague, Chris Grayling and Boris Johnson.  

Prominent American figures in the group included Republican senators Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham and Democrat Joe Lieberman as well as Tea Party member and president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint.

The Atlantic Bridge’s UK executive director was Adam Werritty, a close lobbyist friend of Liam Fox. Werritty’s role as an unofficial, unauthorised advisor to Fox as Defence Secretary later led to Fox resigning as secretary.

From 2007 to 2009, Catherine Bray was the US executive director. During this time Bray was also the director of international relations at ALEC. Prior to that she worked as Chief of Staff for the UK Conservatives Whip’s office at the European Parliament as well as a former adviser to the climate-change sceptic Roger Helmer, a Tory MEP at the time.

Funding

Known funders of the Atlantic Bridge include Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze. Hintze, a prominent Conservative Party donor, later went on to fund the UK’s climate science denial think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation. As the Guardian reported: “The [Atlantic Bridge] accounts also show that £104,000 – or 58% of the charities voluntary income – had come from one source: the Hintze Family Foundation.”

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also funded the Atlantic Bridge while Fox was shadow health secretary. The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre also provided funds.

Key Quotes

October 2006

Liam Fox to business leaders at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Club:

“We are trying to bring people together who have common interests and to recognise that in an ever more globalised economy, we will all be called upon to defend those common interests.”  

May 2003

speech by Margaret Thatcher to the Atlantic Bridge:

Renewing and strengthening the bonds between conservatives from our two nations is part of this: and it is a noble and necessary enterprise. This Atlantic Bridge must connect the brightest minds, the soundest ideas, and the boldest young leaders of the future. It should serve at once as a memorial to our heritage, as an investment in our prospects, and as a bulwark against the good - and not so good - people on the Left, who always turn out to have such very bad ideas.” 

November 2002

Liam Fox in a speech to Atlantic Bridge members in New York:

The natural desire to avoid conflict has been reinforced by an innate pacificism in many sections of western society, especially in continental Europe … For too many, peace has come to mean simply the absence of war. We cannot allow that corrosive view to go unchallenged.” 

Key Deeds

September 2011

The Atlantic Bridge dissolved following a Charity Commission investigation.

2007

Liam Fox’s Atlantic Bridge entered into a special partnership with ALEC.

July 2006

Conferences were held in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh entitled: “Killing the Golden Goose – How Regulation and Legislation are Damaging Wealth Creation”.

Photo: Screengrab via web.archive.org