The IEA seems to have shot itself in the foot this time.
IEA is a free market think tank that enjoys charitable status for the advancement of education. I have drawn attention repeatedly to what I regard as breaches of the Charity Commission’s guidance on the proper nature of charitable education – that it should inform the public in a balanced and neutral way, and should not be promoting a predetermined position, particularly on controversial topics. There are also, in my opinion, endemic breaches by IEA of the separate guidance that the purpose of a charity must be exclusively charitable, since it seems to me that part of the purpose of the IEA is political (as defined by the Charity Commission in CC9) because it consistently seeks to shrink the state in many different dimensions of policy.
Twice in recent times, the Charity Commission has investigated such complaints against the IEA, and twice thought it had achieved a thorough understanding with the Trustees about observing the rules of a charity for the advancement of education. The first time, however, it was not very long before the supposed understanding collapsed. The Commission had to tell the IEA to take down and remove its joint “Manifesto Proposals for a Conservative Government” that produced various contentious political proposals in association with the non-charitable Taxpayers’ Alliance. They thought they had also reached a deeper understanding on being particularly careful about press releases or social media contributions that might be seen as promoting a predetermined or political view rather than charitable education. In a sense, one might assume, the Trustees would realise that they were on probation, to demonstrate adherence to this supposed second thorough understanding, having failed to live up to the previous one.
Then came the recent ruling by the Commission about the Legatum Institute Foundation’s report on Brexit. That report was found to breach the Commission’s guidance because it “failed to make clear that there are multiple potential Brexit outcomes and that free trade is one of a number of political outcomes.” As a result, the report did not demonstrate the necessary balance and neutrality of charitable education: it “could be seen as promoting a particular political view for the aim of a particular outcome and recommending specific government action that reflects this.” That, said the Commission, is inconsistent with the purpose of charitable education.
I wrote to the Charity Commission to point out that this ruling cast grave doubt over the charitable status of the IEA, since its reports routinely bear the same hallmarks of those complained of by the Commission in the Legatum case.
In these circumstances, would you assume that the IEA would be particularly careful to demonstrate its own observance of the rules?
Not a bit of it. The day before the Prime Minister’s all day meeting with her Cabinet at Chequers on 6 July, the IEA tweeted the following:
“At Chequers tomorrow, it’s simple.
Theresa May must rule out a:
X Partial Single Market
X Partial Customs Union
X Staying in the EEA
X Regulatory Relationship that locks us into accepting EU laws
XE Customs relationship deal that makes us collect money for the EU”
Separately, Kate Andrews, Head of News at the IEA, tweeted:
“The opportunity to secure free trade deals around the world cannot be abandoned because the PM failed to negotiate with the EU on time. Cabinet at #Chequers must push back on any attempt to compromise the best benefits #Brexit has to offer.”
Thus, the IEA follows almost to the letter what the Commission said was wrong in the Legatum report. The tweet “failed to make clear that there are multiple potential Brexit outcomes and that free trade is one of a number of political outcomes.” And the tweet “could be seen as promoting a particular political view for the aim of a particular outcome and recommending specific government action that reflects this” – and on the same subject.
The tweet makes “simple” political proposals that have nothing to do with charitable education, in pursuit of the IEA’s objective of shrinking the state and promoting specific policies that reflect their pretermined position. They make something of a mockery of the Commission’s guidance that “the nature of education is informative, enabling the reader to form their own conclusions” and “it is not generally appropriate for an educational charity to advocate changes in public policy.”
I have written to Helen Stephenson at the Charity Commission complaining about this further breach.
Will it be a case of “three strikes and you’re out” when it comes to the IEA’s charity status? Will the Commission accept that this leopard is not going to change its spots?