Former Chancellor's chairship of the British Museum is a 'conflict of interest', campaign group warns

George Osborne's links to BP mean he should not make decisions about its sponsorship of exhibitions, campaigners have said

Credit: Eric M.V (ROWDY)/Pexels
Credit: Eric M.V (ROWDY)/Pexels

A campaign group has warned that former chancellor George Osborne’s appointment as chair of the British Museum represents a “glaring conflict of interest”.

The museum announced in June that Osborne would join its board of trustees in September, and he succeeded the former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert as chair of trustees at the start of this month.

But Osborne, the former Conservative MP for Tatton, took on a full-time role as a partner at investment bank Robey Warshaw in April, which counts oil giant BP as a major client.

BP currently has a sponsorship deal with the museum, which has been the subject of protests by climate change campaigners who argue cultural organisations should not accept money from fossil fuel companies.

The deal is due to be considered for renewal next year.

Campaign group Culture Unstained, which aims to end fossil fuel companies' sponsorship of culture, has called on the musuem to confirm that Osborne will have no role in deciding the future of its partnership with BP.

A spokesperson for CU said the museum “needs to make clear today that the new chair will have no role in deciding the future of the BP partnership, given this glaring conflict of interest”.

He said: “BP’s oil and gas drilling plans remain on a collision course with global climate goals and, just weeks away from the COP26 climate summit, the museum must show it intends to act responsibly on climate change."

The British Museum is an exempt charity, and so is not regulated by the Charity Commission.

The museum said that its policy on managing potential or actual conflicts of interests is included in its governance principles and procedures document, which is published on its website and also sets out the standard of conduct which all trustees are expected to meet.

A spokesperson for the charity added: “In practice, if a conflict of interest arises, a trustee would leave a meeting and not take part in a discussion or decision relating to the conflict.

“This would be recorded in the minutes of the trustee meeting.

“Where the chair withdraws because of a conflict of interests, one of the museum’s deputy chairs would act in their place.”

Staff at the museum took part in an 1,500-strong protest in February 2020 that called for the museum to end its relationship with BP.

As part of the demonstration, protesters dressed as Greek soldiers flanking a wooden Trojan Horse occupied the museum for one day.

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