Institute of Economic Affairs

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[A] hard-right lobby group for vested interests of big business, fossil fuels, tobacco, junk food...
—James O'Brien, LBC Radio[1]

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is a Westminster-based think tank that has long boasted an ‘E’ rating ("No or negligible relevant information provided.") from WhoFundsYou and zero stars out of five from Transparify for funding transparency.[2] It officially holds charitable status, despite being proven to act as a front for offering political access to large American corporations.[3] It lost a legal battle over being labelled a "hard right lobby group" according to openDemocracy.[4]

The IEA operates under a franchise of hard-right think tanks called the State Policy Network. As an associate member of this network, they receive money from GlaxoSmithKline and State Healthcare; the Seale Freedom Trust correspondingly flaunts its aim to ‘reduce public sector services in healthcare’, including repealing Medicare in the US. To please their sponsors, the American 'journalist' Kate Andrews goes on a lot of BBC political programmes to advocate privatizing the National Health Service.[5][dead link] Glaxo also came up in the covid era as a company that had competing and undeclared conflicts of interest in a government covid vaccine deal, according to the BMJ.[6]

It has taken financial donations from tobacco[7] and gambling[8] companies. In an undercover leak it was revealed that the IEA was involved in the "Brexit influencing game"[9], offering a service to get in touch with important political figures like Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Liam FoxWikipedia, Steve Baker and David DavisWikipedia, in addition to including the shaping of research, for example, it could help US chicken and cattle farmers sell chlorine soaked chicken and beef to the UK. This would help sell salmonella to the UK public[10], on the other hand, it would be profitable. Liam Fox was also being funded by Pfizer during the time of Atlantic Bridge and being David Cameron's aide[11], further inspection of the IEA's associations reveals a web of conservative lobbying.

Connections to other think-tanks and notable persons[edit]

The Hintze Family Charitable Donation, which Michael HintzeWikipedia is a trustee of, donated £100,000 to the IEA according to a (now dead) link to a report by the Charity Commission[12]. Another report from them indicates donations of up to £50,000 in 2016.[13] Michael Hintze is a large donor to many conservative causes, and even seems to have privately dined with David Cameron in the past. He is also linked to Liam Fox[14], who set up a dodgy charity that the charity commission struck off called The Atlantic BridgeWikipedia, which was also founded by Margaret Thatcher. He is also linked to David HendersonWikipedia, who was academic advisor chairman of Global Warming Policy FoundationWikipedia, a climate denial charity that has come under scrutiny over its non-transparency around its financial donors and received donations from Hintze.[12] Henderson was responsible for articles like "Misguided Virtue: False Notions of Corporate Social Responsibility".[15]

GWPF recently rebranded itself, possibly to avoid easily being called out by getting a name change to NZW (Net Zero Watch).[16] Steve Baker happens to be a trustee of the think tank, showing us that he and Hintze seem to be good chums.

Its interests also sometimes align with the Adam Smith InstituteWikipedia, which has also been around and was a major ally of Margaret Thatcher's during privatization. It also seems to want you to buy chlorine washed chicken.[17] It is worth noting that this think tank also had issues with the charity commission when it was offering lunches to get interviews with political figures[9]. In fact, the Adam Smith Institute is part of the Atlas NetworkWikipedia[note 1]. The IEA also is in that group, along with another controversial think tank called the Legatum InstituteWikipedia[18], who were also grilled by the Charity Commission for not remaining politically impartial as a charity.[19]

It has a close relationship with Spiked, the alt-right/libertarian online magazine. In 2018 Spiked published an article defending the IEA over allegations from Greenpeace about the IEA's opaque funding, headlined "This is just a smear campaign"; this anonymous article included an interview with IEA's Mark Littlewood.[20] The IEA's Christopher Snowdon writes for Spiked, and the IEA's website promotes his appearances.[21]

The IEA has close links to Liz Truss, who became British Prime Minister in 2022. Her special advisor Ruth Porter was communications director at the IEA.[22] The IEA chief Mark Littlewood and another IEA worker Ruth Porter were involved with Truss in establishing the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, and Littlewood said Truss had spoken at more IEA events "than any other politician over the past 12 years", adding that Truss was "genuinely engaged in the ideas rather than just occasionally turning up to say a few warm words at a Christmas party".[22][23] OpenDemocracy even goes on to basically state that the economic policies that Liz Truss put forward and which were so awful were inspired directly by the IEA, and also goes on to mention that they are Rishi Sunak's old allies.[24]


Despite its funding being notoriously opaque, there is some information regarding it. Among its funders are oil baron Harry Boyd Earhart's Foundation ($72,500 in 2014 and 2015), Pierre F. Goodrich's Liberty Fund ($80,000 between 2014 and 2017), the Chase Foundation of Virginia ($40,000 from 2014 to 2017), John Stossel's Center for Independent Thought ($10,000), Virginia-based Donors Trust ($10,000), and evangelical Christian fund manager John Templeton's Foundation ($497,000).[25][26]

Naturally, it is supportive of tobacco companies, given that they have been quite charitable to the institute. (This includes funding some of Roger Scruton's pro-tobacco publications.)[27] Being that it received funding from BP oil, it is no wonder that it also engaged in climate denialism: in 2019 The Guardian said the IEA had "published at least four books, as well as multiple articles and papers, over two decades suggesting manmade climate change may be uncertain or exaggerated".[28][29]


It complained to media regulator Ofcom when radio presenter James O'Brien (hardly a Marxist firebrand) characterised it as a "hard-right lobby group for vested interests of big business, fossil fuels, tobacco, junk food" in 2019.[1] He also called an IEA spokesperson "some Herbert" and stated the IEA was of "questionable provenance, with dubious ideas and validity" and funded by "dark money". Ofcom judged that nothing O'Brien said was a distortion of the facts, and he had offered them a right of reply; the IEA's complaint was rejected.[30]

In 2019 it received a formal warning from the Charity Commission for England and Wales, for using charitable resources to campaign for a hard Brexit (total disengagement from the EU and European institutions), and specifically to fund a document arguing for a hard Brexit called Plan A+. The Charity Commission said: "This clearly constitutes political activity and, as it does not further the educational purposes of the IEA, any costs incurred by the IEA will have been an inappropriate use of charitable resources."[31]

Journalists George Monbiot and Carole Cadwalladr have repeatedly complained to the BBC about the broadcaster giving a platform to IEA employees without revealing the sources of their funding. In response to complaints, the BBC changed its editorial guidelines to say that information on the funding of think tanks "should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context". However the BBC repeatedly ignores this guideline and invites the IEA to comment on news stories, even when figures closely connected to the IEA were in power, as with Liz Truss's government.[1]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Funnily enough, the wikipedia page itself says that the name of the Atlas Network is not in fact a reference to Ayn Rand.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Rightwing thinktanks run this government. But first, they had to capture the BBC, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 5 October 2022
  2. Who Funds You?
  3. Rightwing UK thinktank 'offered ministerial access' to potential US donors, Robert Booth, The Guardian, 29 July 2018
  4. Institute for Economic Affairs loses battle over ‘hard-right lobby group’ comments, Martin Williams, Open Democracy, 9 August 2021
  5. Dissecting the IEA: the think tank committed to privatizing and Americanizing the NHS, Ruairi Wood
  7. Health groups dismayed by news 'big tobacco' funded rightwing thinktanks, The Observer/, 1 June 2018
  8. Casino owners donated to IEA after thinktank's pro-gambling report, The Guardian, 30 July 2018
  9. 9.0 9.1 Rightwing UK thinktank 'offered ministerial access' to potential US donors, The Guardian, 29 July 2018
  10. Viable-but-Nonculturable Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica Serovar Thompson Induced by Chlorine Stress Remain Infectious, Callum J. Highmore, Jennifer C. Warner, Steve D. Rothwell, Sandra A. Wilks, C. William Keevil, mBio, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2018)
  11. David Cameron's aide worked for Liam Fox charity, The Guardian, 11 Oct 2011
  12. 12.0 12.1 Michael Hintze revealed as funder of Lord Lawson's climate thinktank, The Guardian, 27 March 2012
  13. Report and Financial Statements For the year ended 31 December20l6, The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation
  14. Michael Hintze: Liam Fox backer who helped to bankroll foreign trips, The Guardian, 11 Oct 2011
  15. Misguided Virtue, David Henderson, IEA, 2001
  16. UK’s climate science deniers rebrand, Politico.EU, 11 Oct 2021
  17. Chlorinated Chicken: Why you shouldn't give a cluck, Peter Spence, Adam Smith Institute, April 2017
  18. US groups raise millions to support rightwing UK thinktanks, The Guardian, 28 Sep 2018
  19. Pro-Brexit thinktank broke charity rules on politics, watchdog says, The Guardian, 1 Jun 2018
  20. "This is just a smear campaign", Spiked, Aug 3, 2018
  21. Good riddance Public Health England, IEA, 1 Nov 2021
  22. 22.0 22.1 Has Liz Truss handed power over to the extreme neoliberal thinktanks?, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 23 Sep 2022
  23. London Influence: IEA way or the highway — SpAd advice — Give (time) generously, London Influence, Politico, 8 Sep 2022
  25. Top Supporters of Institute of Economic Affairs, Conservative Transparency, accessed 29 Aug 2022
  26. The US donors who gave generously to rightwing UK groups, The Guardian, 29 Nov 2019
  27. Cigarette packaging: the corporate smokescreen, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 15 July 2013
  28. Revealed: BP and gambling interests fund secretive free market think tank, Unearthed, Greenpeace, 30 July 2018
  29. Revealed: top UK thinktank spent decades undermining climate science, The Guardian, 10 Oct 2019
  30. LBC’s James O’Brien wins Ofcom battle with Institute of Economic Affairs, The Guardian, 9 Aug 2021
  31. [1], The Guardian, 5 Feb 2019