Initiative for Free Trade

Initiative for Free Trade (formerly Institute for Free Trade)

Background

The Initiative for Free Trade is a Eurosceptic thinktank that advocates “the moral case for open commerce” and sees “Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union as a “unique opportunity to revitalise the world trading system.” [1], [2]

It was originally established as the Institute for Free Trade in September 2017, with a launch in the British Foreign Office led by then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Trade Secretary Liam Fox. Johnson came under fire for waiving the usual £6,000 fee for use of the venue, with senior civil servants criticising the move. [3], [4]

It was forced to drop the word “institute” from its name after an inquiry by Companies House, with all references to “institute” removed from its website. It is now officially registered as IFT Ltd, having previously been registered as the Initiative for International Trade Ltd. [5], [6]

The IFT‘s president is a former Conservative MEP and Brexit campaigner Daniel Hannan, who has spoken about fostering greater ties between post-Brexit Britain and America at events hosted by US thinktank the Heritage Foundation, a US thinktank known for opposing climate action and environmental regulations that was at the heart of Donald Trump‘s transition team in the weeks before he became president. [2], [7]

The IFT was formerly based at 57 Tufton Street, sharing an office with the Centre for Policy Studies, which has previously been a strong critic of renewable energy, and next door to many of the organisations DeSmog UK previously revealed to be at the heart of a UK climate science denial network in 55 Tufton Street. [8], [9]

In February 2020, it moved its address to the office of a Birmingham accountancy firm run by Saqib Bhatti, newly elected Conservative MP for the West Midlands constituency of Meriden. [8]

In February 2020 Hannan was reported to be under consideration to receive a peerage from Boris Johnson and was made a Lord at the end of the year. [10]

Stance on Climate Change

IFT President Daniel Hannan has frequently downplayed the threat of climate change while Board Member Peter Lilley and Advisor Tony Abbott have both opposed climate action. [12], [13], [14], [15]

In 2018 the IFT published a “blueprint” for a deregulatory USUK free trade deal in 2018, in partnership with the US-based libertarian thinktank the Cato Institute, where it advocated the removal of key environmental policies including the use of the “precautionary principle.” [16]

In November 2019, IFT researcher Barney Trimble welcomed plans for the “Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability,” a trade agreement proposed by the Governments of New Zealand, Iceland, Fiji, Costa Rija and Norway which, among other provisions, would include a commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. [17]

Funding

The IFT’s website says that it is a “private, not-for-profit, non partisan research organisation” that is funded by “donations and grants from private individuals, commercial and non-commercial organisations” as well as “publication sales and conferences.” [2]   

The IFT has previously refused to disclose its funding sources. When asked by a journalist from the Independent, a spokesperson said: [18]

The majority of our income comes in the form of donations from private individuals. [18]

As an organisation promoting free trade, we exist to reject corporatism and special interests: as such, our research is not inspired by our funding; our funding is inspired by our research. As a private company limited by guarantee, we have agreed to protect the privacy of our donors, and their families.” [18]

Annual Reports

The IFT held £75,436 in assets as of January 2019, according to its filing on Companies House. [8]

Key People

IFT President

IFT President Daniel Hannan was a Conservative MEP for South East England from 1999 until the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in January 2020. In the 1990s he helped to found the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs which campaigned for Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on the EU and, after the referendum, became a powerful “party within a party” pressuring then Prime Minister Theresa May to deliver a “hard” Brexit. Hannan was also one of the founders of Vote Leave, the official pro-Brexit campaign. [19], [20]

Executive Board

  • Jon Moynihan – Chairman
  • Alan Halsall – Deputy Chairman
  • Dame Helena Morrissey – Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management
  • Lord Salisbury – Leader of the House of Lords (1994 – 1997)
  • Brian Kingham – Entepreneur, Investor and Founding Chairman of Reliance Security Group
  • Lord Digby Jones – Minister for Trade & Investment (2007 – 2008); Director General of the Chamber of British Industry (CBI) (2000-2006)
  • Jim Mellon – Entrepreneur, Investor and Chairman of Burnbrae
  • Max Rangeley – Manager of the Cobden Centre
  • Peter Lilley –  Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1990 – 1992) and Social Security (1992 – 1997) [2]

International Advisory Board

The IFT’s advisory board includes the former Prime Minister of Spain, former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, and former President of Bolivia. The advisory board also includes former leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, and the Brexit-supporting former Head of the Chamber of British Industries (CBI), Lord Digby Jones.

Abbott has repeatedly denied mainstream climate science and has given speeches to the Australian thinktank, the Institute of Public Affairs, as well as the UK’s Global Warming Policy Foundation. [21], [22]

  • Jose Maria Aznar – Prime Minister of Spain (1996 – 2004)
  • Jorge Quiroga – President of Bolivia (2001 – 2002)
  • Tony Abbott – Prime Minister of Australia (2013 – 2015)
  • Ruth Richardson – Finance Minister of New Zealand (1990 – 1993)
  • Ben Murray-Bruce – Senator for Bayelsa East, Nigeria (2015 – present)
  • Lord Michael Howard – British Home Secretary (1993 – 1997), Leader of the Conservative Party (2003 – 2005)
  • Ben Sasse – Senator for Nebraska, US (2015 – present) [2]

Actions

July 29, 2020

The IFT announced it had been invited to participate in the Government’s new Trade and Agriculture Commission, launched by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

Alongside the announcement, the IFT wrote: [23]

“From increased export opportunities and reduced costs of inputs, UK agriculture can expect to gain from free trade agreements. With Flag of United Kingdom products valued for their high quality, the sector is already becoming more competitive, and trade liberalisation will accelerate this. [23]

IFT is also committed to ensuring that our own economy is open. Free trade means not arbitrarily discriminating against foreign products, and as the UK establishes itself at the WTO – an organisation founded on this principle – the UK must join those leading by example.” [23]

The Trade and Agriculture Commission was criticised for the make-up of its membership, which included two members of the pro-deregulation thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and only one representative of an environmental organisation. [24]

February 19, 2020

The IFT moved its address to the office of a Birmingham accountancy firm run by Saqib Bhatti, newly elected Conservative MP for the West Midlands constituency of Meriden. [8]

September 18, 2018

The IFT launched a “blueprint” for a USUK free trade deal that “would see the NHS opened to foreign competition, a bonfire of consumer and environmental regulations and freedom of movement between the two countries for workers,” the Guardian reported. The text of the deal was drawn up by the IFT and the libertarian US-based thinktank, the Cato Institute, which has received significant funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers and ExxonMobil, while lobbying strongly against action to reduce emissions.

The proposal was drafted in collaboration with numerous other free market thinktanks on both sides of the Atlantic, many of which have spread misinformation about climate science over the years. They include the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. [16]

December 2017

The IFT drops the word ‘institute’ from its name after an investigation by Companies House. Use of the word ‘institute’ in an organisation’s title is protected by law and reserved for those “that typically undertake research at the highest level, or are professional bodies of the highest standing”. Companies House and the business secretary must give permission for it to be used. [5]

October 2017

The IFT held its inaugural Global Trade Summit in London. Matt Ridley chaired a panel entitled “the best ideas in economics” where Mark J Perry, a scholar at the DC-based thinktank the American Enterprise Institute participated. [25]

Writing in the International Business Times ahead of the summit, Daniel Hannan said: [26]

“Free trade is what lifted us above the run of nations and, in the process, lifted others. It is one of those delightful things – along with smiles and kisses – that enriches both parties. It is time we recovered our global vocation. [26]

September, 2017

The IFT was launched at the Foreign Office by foreign secretary Boris Johnson and trade secretary Liam Fox. Both have links to a transatlantic climate disinformation network. Also in attendance were journalists from the the Times, the Sun, theTelegraph and the Spectator, as well as the editor of BrexitCentral, Jonathan Isaby. Icelandic foreign minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson also spoke at the event. [3]

Related Organisations

Contact & Address

As of August 2020, the IFT’s address was: 

IFT Ltd.

93 Broad Street, 

Birmingham 

B15 1AU

United Kingdom

Email: [email protected] [31]

Social Media

Resources

  1. Home,” IFT. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/E4dQt
     
  2. About,” IFT. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/0mEWk
  3. Mat Hope. “Introducing the Institute for Free Trade: A new pro-Brexit thinktank tied to the UK’s climate science denier network,” DeSmog, September 27, 2017.

  4. Tamsin Rutter. “Boris Johnson waived FCO fee for think tank launch against wishes of civil service ethics chief,” Civil Service World, February 23, 2018. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/f83Um

  5. Peter Walker and Anushka Asthana. “Brexit thinktank removes ‘institute from its name,” The Guardian, December 18, 2017. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/teGIi

  6. IFT Ltd – Company No. 10562000,” Companies House. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/jZdpG

  7. Brexit and the opportunities for a deeper anglo-american alliance – Event,” The Heritage Foundation, November 7, 2017. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/e8Rbg

  8. IFT Ltd – Filing History,” Companies House. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/a3CQ2

  9. Kyla Mandel. “Is a climate sceptic behind the latest anti-renewables report?DeSmog, March 18, 2015.

  10. Eleanor Langford. “Boris Johnson awards peerages to Tory donors and Brexit supporters,” Politics Home, February 7, 2020. Archived August 31, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/25xro 

  11. John Johnston, “Boris Johnson sparks ‘cronyism’ row after awarding peerages to senior party donors and his own brother,” Politics Home. Archived August 31, 2020. Archive.fo URL: “https://archive.fo/J9nYb

  12. Global warming: scientists are not always the right experts,” YouTube video uploaded by user “DanHannan” on December 15, 2014. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

  13. Daniel Hannan. “Channel 4 News has given up any pretence at accuracy, seriousness or responsibly. I won’t appear on it again. Twitter thread by @DanielJHannan, June 15, 2019. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  14. Katharine Murphy. “Tony Abbott urges withdrawal from Paris agreement, despite signing Australia up as PM,” The Guardian, July 3, 2018. Archived January 13, 2020. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.md/wip/Lyo4j

  15. Peter Lilley. “£300 BILLION: The cost of the Climate Change Act” (PDF), The Global Warming Policy Foundation, December 2016. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

  16. Felicity Lawrence, David Pegg and Rob Evans. “Rightwing thinktanks unveil radical plan for USUK Brexit trade deal,” The Guardian, September 18, 2018. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Fttto

  17. Barney Trimble. “A free trade initiative to tackle climate change,” Initiative for Free Trade, November 9, 2019. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Kwnuf

  18. James Moore, “Daniel Hannan’s Initiative for Free Trade bangs the brexit drum, but who’s paying for the sticks?The Independent, November 21, 2018. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4tqu3

  19. MEPs – Daniel Hannan,” European Parliament website. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/e2wpC

  20. Peter Geoghegan, “‘A corruption of Conservatism’: how a cartel of Tory MPs broke British politics,” OpenDemocracy, August 6, 2020. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/A4TrO

  21. Karl Mathiesen. “Climate change ‘probably doing good’, says former Australian PM Abbott,” Climate Home News, October 9, 2017. Archived January 10, 2019. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.md/wip/QVksq

  22. Louise Yaxley. “Tony Abbott says Australia letting itself down, questions Malcolm Turnbull’s policy formula,” ABC, June 27, 2017. Archived January 10, 2019. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.md/wip/FxC8j

  23. Initiative for Free Trade. “1/3 IFT is pleased to have been invited to participate in the Government’s new Trade and Agriculture Commission, launched officially yesterday by International Trade Secretary @trussliz,” Twitter thread by @IFTtweets. Retrieved from Twiitter. Archived August 29, 2020. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  24. Rachel Sherrington. “Government appoints lobbyists with US agribusiness ties to Trade and Agriculture Commission,” DeSmog, July 15, 2020.

  25. Global Trade Summit 2017,” IFT. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/RCiJz

  26. Daniel Hannan. “Why has free trade stopped being a left-wing cause?International Business Times, October 18, 2017. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/KoKKz

  27. Rajeev Syal and Jessica Elgot. “Leading Brexiteer claims EU citizens in UK will be given voting rights,” The Guardian, October 25, 2018. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/EDoga

  28. The Campaign,” Vote Leave. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Uy99F

  29. Alan Halsall: We need a better business deal in Europe. That’s why I’m backing backing Business for Britain,” Conservative Home, April 22, 2013. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/CXvDF

  30. Institute of Economic Affairs appoints Jon Moynihan OBE to its Board of Trustees,” Institute of Economic Affairs, June 5, 2018. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ilpyO

  31. Contact IFT,” IFT. Archived August 29, 2020. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/d0Aes

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