Secret state? The Legatum Institute

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Written and posted by Simon Ferrigno

I was prompted to look into the Legatum Institute by an article in the Guardian by Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, which mentioned that the organisation had been present at a meeting with British business leaders, and may be involved in negotiations on Brexit in Brussels. Britain’s new chief trade negotiator (a New Zealander) comes from this institution, which has its origins in a Dubai based hedge fund, which remains its only named funder.

This organisation wants Britain to negotiate trade agreements on the basis of unilaterally abandoning all agricultural protections, reducing domestic regulation and emphasising services. Bad news for worker’s rights, environmental legislation, health and safety (whether at work or home), British farmers, and so on. Good for cheap imports, bad for British exports and thus our trade deficit (even less money for government and services). Possibly good news for management consultants, lawyers, tax avoidance experts and hedge funds.

Clearly, the Legatum Institute has an agenda – a global, neo-liberal if not neo-libertarian agenda, given some of the people in it, and the fact that pro-EU staff have resigned in recent months. It is using its influence with government, and the government’s complete lack of preparedness and ideas, to advance that agenda. This is being done without any involvement by parliament or any consultation of the people of Britain through parliament.

Who are we talking about? One person is Matthew Elliot, ex-chairman of Vote Leave and founder of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, someone with a clear small-state, low tax vision of Britain – the Singapore option we hear about (Singapore being an unregulated, open services economy using much unprotected migrant labour, and with nothing that passes for a functioning democracy, although its streets are, we hear, chewing gum free). It’s new director is Phillipa Stroud, who comes straight from Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, another organisation with a few stains on its name. UN investigations into Britain’s treatment of the disabled can be traced back to Iain Duncan Smith, founder of the Centre for Social Justice and his reforms to benefits. The idea of people, even the disabled, having to work their own way out of poverty chimes with the Legatum Institute’s claim to want to help ‘individuals flourish’. These are libertarian, anti-welfare state approaches, with no concept of community or collective responsibility in society.

Another Director of the Institute was also Director of the Leadsome for Leader campaign (someone who wants perhaps an even harder Brexit than Theresa May and her cohorts). Michael Gove has also spoken at the Legatum instituter’s events, as has Mitt Romney.

The organisation has over £4 million in income, but only its parent hedge fund is mentioned by name as a donor.

Their agenda is such that one could be forgiven for thinking they want the talks to fail, especially talks on a soft Brexit, one that involves staying in one or both of the single market and customs union. This would have the added benefit of keeping Britain outside any EU anti-tax avoidance legislation, which is due in 2019. Legatum seems to be more elite libertarians with undue influence over our current second rate brexit politicians.

The Institute also seems to like a group known as CANZUK that wants closer ties between the UK, Australia, NZ and Canada (and eventually the USA). That is, the white anglosphere. Sinister? Racist? Perhaps. And more importantly, a sphere unable to replace the value of lost EU trade…

If organisations can provide useful advice and expertise to government at a time of dire need, that is one thing. But in this case, we should be worried on two levels. One is that the organisation is clearly nor providing useful or correct advice to government – we just need to look at the reports of the last round of talks in Brussels for that. The other is that the organisation has a clear interest in the harshest of Brexits to further its own neo-libertarian agenda, and so may be providing bad advice to ensure that happens.

I’d suggest people write to their MPs to demand to know more, or make a Freedom of Information request to the DexEU to demand to know what Legatum’s role is, and minutes of all meetings and reports they are involved in. Possible questions to ask include:

– What is the Legatum Institutes’s role in Brexit negotiations?

– How many meetings have they had with ministers and the Prime Minister?

– What was discussed at these meetings?

– Have they taken part in meetings in Brussels as part of UK government delegations?

– How many meetings?

– What was discussed?

– What is their formal role and contribution to discussions about Brexit and the UKs future with the British government?

– What parliamentary oversight is their of this participation?

I will report back on any results I have from my own FoI request. May it be more fruitful than the last one I did, asking for a report on a meeting in New York between Theresa May and Rupert Murdoch shortly after she became Prime Minister.