‘Hard Brexit’ think tank charity gives Conservative MP a job

11 Jan 2018 News

The think tank Legatum, which is under regulatory scrutiny over its stance on Brexit, has given Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin a £30,000-a-year job, prompting questions over whether it meets rules that say charities must not be party political.

Charities must not engage in party political activity, and the Commission is scrutinising whether Legatum's approach to Brexit meets the rules on the subject.

According to the parliamentary register of MPs’ financial interests, Letwin joined the think tank on this month as a senior fellow, earning £2,500 a month.

The register describes the Legatum Institute as “an independent non-partisan policy, advisory and advocacy organisation”.

The Legatum Institute is a registered charity which says “focuses on understanding, measuring and explaining the journey from poverty to prosperity for individuals, communities and nations”. It produces an annual prosperity index. 

It is led by Baroness Phillppa Stroud, who co-founded the Centre for Social Justice with Iain Duncan Smith, and was later appointed as his special adviser when he was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. 

Letwin was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the Cabinet Office between 2014 and 2016. In this role he was the minister who overruled civil servants’ recommendation to give Kids Company the final £3m grant.

The appointment was spotted by Jim Waterson, political editor at Buzzfeed, who described Legatum as "Twitter's favourite Brexit think tank". Replies to his tweet suggest a number of people are concerned about the appointment.

Already under scrutiny

Last year the Legatum Institute came under scrutiny over its position on Brexit and its frequent meetings with ministers. At the time the Commission said it would engage with trustees. The charity denied any wrongdoing and said it had contacted the regulator because of unreasonable media scrutiny. 

In a statement in December it said: “In recent weeks, The Legatum Institute Foundation and its supporters have been subject to a series of misleading and false allegations, notably in the Mail on Sunday. These have a significant bearing on our work, and risk significant harm to our reputation, and therefore are relevant to our regulator, the Charity Commission. 

“Last week, The Legatum Institute Foundation proactively notified the Charity Commission of these false allegations and is sharing evidence to demonstrate how the activities of The Legatum Institute Foundation are in line with relevant guidelines, as well as the steps we have taken to protect our independence and advance our research and educational work. 

“We are determinedly non-partisan. We guard our independence vigorously. We are not party political and do not promote any particular party policies. We remain open to all ideas and policies that will help move people from poverty to prosperity. We go where the evidence leads us.”

Today the Commission said it is still engaging with trustees over “over concerns around the charity’s independence and compliance with our guidance on the advancement of education for the public benefit”.

A spokeswoman said: “The trustees have now submitted detailed information in response to our extensive questions. We are currently scrutinising that information to make an assessment as to whether the charity is operating in line with its objects for the public benefit.”


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