Charity Commission orders Atlantic Bridge to 'cease its current activities immediately'

By Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector Online, 27 July 2010

Liam Fox

Liam Fox

Regulator says charity founded by defence secretary Liam Fox promotes policy 'closely associated' with Conservative Party

The Charity Commission has told Atlantic Bridge, the charity founded by defence secretary Liam Fox, that its "current activities must cease immediately" because it promotes a political policy closely associated with the Conservative Party.  

In a regulatory case report about the charity, published yesterday, the commission said Atlantic Bridge’s main charitable purposes were the furtherance of public education and research on relations between Europe and North America.

But in practice its activities promoted the 'special relationship’ between the UK and the US that was established when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in power, the report says. The activities included conferences and a lecture series called the Margaret Thatcher series. 

Speeches from the Margaret Thatcher lecture series focused on Thatcher’s personal contribution to the ‘special relationship’ and said the relationship should be strengthened and promoted, the report says.

"This suggests that the activities of the charity are promoting a political policy [that] is closely associated with the Conservative Party," it says.

"The educational objects of the charity have not been advanced by its activities because these activities promote a particular point of view which is not uncontroversial, and are consequently not educational.

"The commission has made clear to the trustees their legal and regulatory responsibilities and the charity’s current activities must cease immediately," it says.

The report also says the charity has not made enough information public to meet its criteria for operating in the public benefit.

It instructs Atlantic Bridge to make sure its future activities do not promote a point of view that is either political, or pre-determined and controversial. It adds that Atlantic Bridge has confirmed it will place more information on its website in future.

Fox founded the charity in 1997, but stood down as a trustee once he became defence secretary in May. The Chancellor, George Osborne, the Foreign Secretary William Hague, and the employment minister Chris Grayling have in the past been on its advisory board, as have five US Republican senators and congressmen. 

A statement issued by the charity said: "We were disappointed that the commission has concluded that both our use of the phrase ‘special relationship’ and our desire to see it strengthened and promoted must cease on the basis that by doing so we are promoting a controversial pre-determined point of view.

"We do however accept the commission’s advice and guidance and we will work over the coming months, as part of our internal review, to identify suitable educational projects and appropriate language to continue to promote close and strong relations between the United Kingdom and the United States in the same way as other charities promote good relations with other countries."

A special adviser to Liam Fox at the Ministry of Defence and a Conservative Party spokeswoman both declined to comment on the case.

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