#IEA sets its sights on Brussels

| August 1, 2018

Not content with its regular contact with British ministers, the Insititute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has set its sights on influencing European actors with its uncompromising free trade and deregulation message. The main issue at stake here is transparency, writes Catherine Feore.

The Guardian and Greenpeace journalists (Unearthed) covertly videoed the Chief Executive of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Mark Littlewood, saying how attendance at IEA events could help participants access government ministers.

There wouldn’t be anything surprising here if IEA were your common or garden public affairs company, but they are a registered charity. The video was enough to prompt the UK’s Charity Commission (responsible for regulating charitable status) to tweet that they already had an ongoing investigation into IEA’s charitable status. It is worth noting that, as a charity, it benefits from tax relief in the UK (more on that later).

The UK’s ‘Who Funds You?’ Website gives IEA its lowest transparency rating of ‘E’ (http://whofundsyou.org/compare) . The rating is based on the transparency of funding sources and ‘E’ = “no or negligible relevant information provided”.

British Green MEP Molly Scott Cato launched a petition (31 July) calling for the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, to stop giving airtime to those organizations who are not entirely transparent about how they are funded, giving the example of the Tax Payer’s Alliance and the IEA.

Transparency Register

The IEA has been involved in a number of events organized by the European Policy Information Center, EPICENTER. EPICENTER describes itself as “an independent initiative of eight leading think-tanks from across the European Union. It seeks to inform the EU policy debate and promote the principles of a free society by bringing together the economic expertise of its members.”

EPICENTER also claims that it does not accept taxpayer funding. But donations to a charity in the UK do benefit from generous tax treatment, which a donor would not enjoy if they gave to a public affairs company.

Gift Aid in the UK

Surprisingly, the venture appears to be funded in its entirety by the IEA. And, please note conspiracy theorists, the transparency register is filled in by the applicant. This information has been provided.

Transparency Register, financial data on EPICENTER

By way of example, EPICENTER organized an event in June where they launched their ‘Nanny State Index’ – an oddly British choice of language for a European event on regulation in Europe. The Index “tracks over-bearing, paternalistic lifestyle regulation across the EU in four categories: alcohol, e-cigarettes, food/soft drinks and tobacco”. The event was attended by Daniel Hannan MEP (European Conservatives and Reform Group), no surprise there, and Christofer Fjellner MEP (the European People’s Party), as well as ‘many others’ – that might just mean that only two confirmed.

EPICENTER ‘Nanny State Index’ publications in 2017 and 2018

Interestingly, both British American Tobacco and Philip Morris do declare their funding of IEA and EPICENTRE repectively.

Transparency Register, British American Tobacco

Transparency Register: Philip Morris International

We have written to MEPs and other organizations, and will update this article when we receive responses. The EU’s Interinstitutional Agreement on the rule for those who register includes a commitment for representatives to always identify themselves, who they work for and to declare any interests.

Transparency register code of conduct

In the field of tobacco lobbying, transparency is a particularly sensitive issue, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has what is known as a ‘lobbying clause’ (Article 5.3) which is further explained in WHO implementing guidelines. Principle 3 is particularly relevant to IEA.

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Guidelines on Article 5.3. Principles 2-4

How to reconcile being both an ideologue and a corporate shill

Mark Littlewood’s defensive response to The Guardian/Unearthed investigation is to play the victim. Instead of addressing IEA’s lack of transparency, he is the victim of a conspiracy to portray the IEA “as an all-powerful, Illuminati-style puppet-master controlling the apparatus of government on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that the corporate elite remain in charge”. Straight from the Arron Banks playbook, he has chosen to hector and dismiss  the report, rather than to address a legitimate concern. The IEA hides behind the need to “protect the privacy of their donors” at the same time saying that they would have needed to carry out ‘due diligence’ on the new donor, “Mr Delacey”. The IEA says it would have carried out due diligence of the “suspicious donor”. This smacks of rank hypocrisy from an organization that is not in any way transparent about its own funding – and is in contravention of a Code of Conduct it subscribes to. This matter should cause concern with those MEPs and First Vice President Frans Timmermans who are currently updating the transparency rules.


On UK charitable status, we would recommend the blog of ‘charity-sector veteran’ Andrew Purkis.

The Guardian recently revealed that the IEA tax haven publication was funded by Jersey’s finance sector. The publication ‘Offshore Bet’ can also be found on the EPICENTER website, it argues that offshore financial centres do not adversely affect the revenue-raising ability of other countries.


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