Regulator warns think tank over Brexit report

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)has been given an official warning by the Charity Commission, after the regulator found its trustees had breached charity law in relation to a publication about a key government policy on Brexit, demonstrating misconduct and mismanagement

The breaches relate to a report (PLAN A+ Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK) published by the charity in September 2018, and an associated launch event. The charity has already removed the report from its website.

The Commission found the report and its launch sought explicitly to change government policy on an issue unrelated to the charity’s purposes – furthering education – which constitutes a breach of its guidance on political activity and campaigning.

The regulator also said the report was not sufficiently balanced and neutral, as required by law from charities with educational purposes. Nor did the charity provide an equally prominent publication or event presenting a different view, which could have provided balance in the round.

The warning also criticised the charity’s launch event for including as speakers only individuals who held a particular set of views, thus risking the public perception that the IEA is politically biased and has a political viewpoint on a key government policy.

As well as calling for the charity to remove and cease promoting the report, which it has done, the official warning specifies that IEA’s trustees should provide the regulator with written assurances that it will not engage in campaigning or political activity that contravenes legal or regulatory requirements.

The charity is also called upon to implement a process to ensure that the charity’s publications and other activities further its educational purposes and are in line with the Commission’s guidance on campaigning and political activity.

David Holdsworth, deputy CEO and registrar at the Charity Commission, said: ‘While the law recognises the role charitable think tanks can play in promoting understanding and learning and inspiring debate, it also sets important limits, designed to protect what is unique and precious about charity.

‘I hope that our official warning now encourages the trustees of the IEA to recognise and understand that they must run the organisation as a charity, and comply with charity law.’

The IEA remains subject to an ongoing regulatory compliance case examining concerns about the trustees’ management and oversight of the charity’s activities.

The Commission pointed out that it has powers under its official warning to take more serious regulatory action, for example using its powers to suspend trustees or appoint an interim manager, if the trustees fail to rectify the specified breaches.

Official warning, Institute of Economic Affairs, is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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