The Legatum Institute Foundation is an international think tank and educational charity based in London. On the landing page of its website, it states that the charity “seeks to provide evidence-based solutions for those who would see free, just and flourishing societies. We do this through our research and by bringing together those who wish to work towards creating a better, more prosperous world. At the Legatum Institute, we believe that prosperity is not just a journey of accumulation, but one of transformation”.
The foundation has been registered as a charity since 2011 and its registered charitable objects are: “to advance the education of the public in national and international political, social and economic policy, including through the promotion of research in any of these areas and the publication of the useful results of such research”.
In late 2017, the Charity Commission received complaints that the charity was political and acting to promote the views of “pro-Brexiteers”.
The Charity Commission was particularly concerned about a research paper published by the charity on 4th November 2018 entitled “Brexit Inflection Point: The Pathway to Prosperity” (https://lif.blob.core.windows.net/lif/docs/default‑source/default‑library/brexitinflectionvweb.pdf?sfvrsn=0).
The Charity Commission opened a case to examine whether the work of the charity was conducted in accordance with its educational object and independently of political views. The Charity Commission also sought to establish whether the report the charity published in November 2017 was consistent with the charity’s stated purpose to advance education, whether the report might risk being perceived to promote a particular political view in respect of Brexit, and whether the report lacked the necessary balance and neutrality required of an educational charity.
In the course of its investigations, the Charity Commission found that the charity engages with individuals from across the political spectrum both through its programme of events and its research and sought to ensure a diverse range of views through its appointments. The charity also has a wide-ranging programme of work across a broad portfolio, including research of effective government, refugees and migration, cultural transformation and global trade. Its work on Brexit comprised only a part of its work, therefore.
The Charity Commission was concerned about a paragraph in the report that stated: “At this critical historical juncture, we aim to present a road-map for the many trade negotiations which the UK will need to undertake now. It seeks to re-focus the public discussion on Brexit to a positive conversation on opportunities, rather than challenges, while presenting empirical evidence of the dangers of not following an expansive trade negotiating path”.
In addition, the executive summary of the report called on the UK government to act: including by moving to substantive negotiations as soon as possible, taking a lead in World Trade Organisations membership, and instructing UK customs agencies to talk to EU member state counterparts.
After the investigations had been completed, the Charity Commission set out its conclusions in its case report.
The Charity Commission stated that it had concluded that research into the framework of Brexit negotiations did fall within the charity’s area of study in national and international political, social and economic policy, and was an appropriate area in which to undertake research.
It also concluded that it was acceptable for an educational charity’s research paper to examine an approach to Brexit negotiations from a particular perspective, such as a free trade perspective, and to discuss how those ends might be reached and the impact of different proposed options (which was the approach taken by the charity with respect to the November 2017 report).
However, the Charity Commission was particularly critical of the charity for portraying only one of the possible outcomes. It stated that, to be consistent the charity’s object to advance education, a report of this nature should make clear that a desired outcome of free trade is only one of a number of the potential political outcomes that might be sought. The report should have presented balanced, neutral evidence and analysis explaining why it had chosen to adopt a free trade perspective over others.
The Charity Commission concluded that, taken as a whole, the report may be seen as promoting a political view directed towards securing a particular negotiating position for the aim of a particular final outcome, and recommending specific government action that reflects this.
It also concluded that, in failing to make clear that there are multiple potential Brexit outcomes and that free trade is one of a number of political outcomes, the report is therefore inconsistent with the requirements associated with the advancement of education for the public benefit.
Whilst the Charity Commission considered that the charity trustees had recognised the need for balance and neutrality, “they crossed a clear line with this publication”.
The Charity Commission provided the charity with formal regulatory advice requiring that the charity must be and be seen to be independent of party politics, ensuring that its independence and political neutrality are protected in all that it does.
The Charity Commission also required the trustees to ensure that the charity better manages this type of risk in future by reviewing the charity’s procedures on managing risk, especially around the commissioning and publication of reports on controversial, highly political subjects, and by removing the report from the charity’s website.
The Charity Commission published its case report on its website on 1st June 2018 and it will continue to monitor the charity’s output closely.