Institute of Economic Affairs says it has 'no apology' to make over newspaper claims

The charitable think tank has reacted strongly to claims in The Guardian that it offered ministerial access to potential donors from the US

Today's Guardian front page
Today's Guardian front page

The charitable think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs has said it makes "no apology" for seeking to raise funds, after claims were made that it offered ministerial access to potential US donors.

The Charity Commission also said today that it has had a regulatory compliance case open for a few weeks to look into claims about the IEA’s political activity.

The latest allegations about the IEA are based on footage from the Greenpeace-backed investigations unit Unearthed, which have been covered in The Guardian newspaper today.

Unearthed says the footage shows Mark Littlewood, director general of the IEA, offering to help US businessmen alter import regulations in the UK after Brexit.

The newspaper reported that Littlewood also boasted to an undercover reporter that becoming an IEA donor would gain them access to UK government ministers.

In a statement, Littlewood said the comments were "selective and taken out of context of a wider conversation", and also defended the IEA’s practices.

"Our research and ideas precede donations, and we make no apology for seeking to raise funds from individuals, foundations and corporations to support our independent research efforts," he said.

"Donors are unable to influence the results and conclusions of our research, which are controlled entirely by our research team, but we greatly welcome their funding, without which we would be unable operate."

Littlewood also defended the IEA’s attempts to influence government trade policy.

"We also make no apologies for seeking to inform and educate politicians at the highest levels of government," he said.

"Indeed, this is a particularly vital audience given the huge issues thrown up by the Brexit process and, in particular, the fact that trade expertise is now so vital in the UK, given that we have not operated an independent trade policy since joining the European Union."

Littlewood said the IEA had submitted a request under "data-protection laws" for the full transcript and audio files of the meeting that was filmed.

Charities are permitted to carry out political activity only when it supports their charitable purposes, and must not be the sole activity of the organisation, according to Charity Commission guidance.

The commission’s website says that the IEA’s activities include research, producing publications, running conferences and student and teacher outreach.

Last year, the Charity Commission asked the IEA to remove two press releases from its website after they were deemed to have breached the regulator’s campaigning guidance.

In a statement today, a spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "We have been assessing concerns about the IEA in recent weeks and can confirm that we have an open regulatory compliance case into the charity.

"Educational charities can play an important role in informing the public. The law is clear, however, that they must do so in a balanced and neutral way. There are clear rules for charities regarding political activity that form a key part of both charity law and public expectations."

The spokeswoman said that the regulator had not yet received evidence from Greenpeace or The Guardian newspaper, but would assess any evidence as part of its ongoing case.

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