Richard North, 27/11/2017  

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It is perhaps indicative of the Legatum Institute's respect of accuracy that, like so many, it fails to distinguish between the words "refute" and "deny".

This is in the context of the Institute denying that it is "aligned with, influenced by, or somehow connected to the Russian state". But, instead of being content with a denial, it chooses the word "refute", meaning: "prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false" – something which, manifestly, it has not done.

For all that, though, allegation aired in yesterday's Mail on Sunday is almost certainly untrue and is most definitely unproven.

It is a pity, therefore, that the MoS, in classic tabloid style, went for the lurid (and unproven) accusation, instead of sticking to the facts, of which there are plenty, and which make for an important and disturbing story, which stand "unrefuted" by the Institute which has been quick to respond to the tabloid narrative.

The original story was first published by this blog at the end of July this year. It essence was that the Legatum Institute – which is openly pushing the "hard Brexit" agenda - has acquired a position of extraordinary influence with the government and with the right wing of the Conservative Party. 

Yet is mainly and lavishly funded by offshore interests controlled by multi-billionaire Christopher Chandler whose business speciality is "moving into markets at times of crisis where assets are mispriced", a model characterised as "disaster capitalism".

The crucial element of this story – as I wrote it – is that there is no "conspiracy" as such. Everything is being done on the open. There is no secrecy and nothing to which I have alluded is in any way illegal. Legatum is hiding in plain sight.

This perhaps explains why the Legatum Institute has moved quickly to publish a lengthy statement on the MoS article, claiming that, "the misleading and inaccurate nature of this article has left us with no option but to issue a response and a correction", but has not reacted in any way to my blogpost.

To a very great degree, the MoS with its insistence on using the Institute to forge spurious links between Putin and the activities of Messrs Gove and Johnson, has created a fantasy conspiracy which could end up letting Legatum of the hook. It and its fellow travellers can so easily poo-poo the "conspiracy theory" and dismiss the tabloid report on that basis.

Predictably, the Legatum Institute is featuring prominently what it terms "the allegation that [it] is being used as a covert means to help bring about a hard Brexit", which itself is something of a straw man approach to the article. Nowhere, specifically, does the MoS actually say this. Even if the innuendo is there, it is carefully guarded.

The crucial part of the MoS report, though, is the claim that Legatum staffer, Shanker Singham, variously "coordinated" or "help write" a "secret letter" sent by Gove and Johnson to Mrs May, details of which emerged earlier this month.

Described at the time as a soft coup, this letter was a direct attack on the "soft Brexit" approach taken by Chancellor Philip Hammond, labelled as "one of the most extraordinary messages ever written to a Prime Minister, blending menace and manipulation with sycophantic praise".

Furthermore, it was widely interpreted as giving "secret instructions on a hard Brexit".

On the other hand, if we turn to the Legatum statement, a careful reading has the Institute denying that Singham coordinated the sending of the letter. But there is no denial, or even an attempt to deny, that Singham had a part in drafting the letter. And, in the absence of any such denial, we can assume that the MoS claim in that respect is well-founded.

If one is looking for the lie direct, however, it is to the Legatum Institute Foundation that one must go. Its statement claims that it "does not advocate a 'hard' or 'soft' Brexit; it wants to help Britain achieve a good Brexit – one that maximises the opportunities and minimises the disruption for the nation".

This is readily contradicted by the Institute's own seminal work on the issue, the Road to Brexit, which is a roadmap to a diamond-hard Brexit, with contributions from many key Tory "ultras". And, if there was any doubt about this, the Institute's report on Brexit, Movement of Goods and the Supply Chain is another model for a hard Brexit.

More recently, we have the report on "The Brexit Inflection Point" which, as I observed was about as crass as it was possible to be. The only thing worse that I can recall is Legatum's report on the Irish question, entitled Mutual Interest, which I described as "a special kind of madness".

Yet, the lead author of these reports is none other than the egregious Singham, a man, we are told by the Institute, "provides advice on trade to anybody who asks. Government, Parliament and the Civil Service seek his advice because he knows what he's talking about". Typically, we have the Spectator rushing to the defence of this fraud.

In a different world, where we had a competent media led by political magazines that weren't comics, we would be seeing reports which went beyond the simplistic "shock-horror-probe" reportage and started to explore why it is that an Institute which produced such shoddy and ill-considered work had such influence on government.

Better grounded reports would also be looking at Singham's unacceptably close relationship with Steve Baker, currently Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Seen together in July 2016 (with Rory Maw at the Legatum Institute, pictured), Baker has a long-term relationship with the Institute, which he maintains through his private think tank, the Cobden Centre.

That aside, though, at least the MoS has raised the profile of the Legatum Institute and got people asking questions about it. Now, in my view, the crucial thing to explore is how offshore money is being used to fund think tanks which in turn are being used to pay and influence politicians.

In our current electoral system, offshore donations to politicians are prohibited. It seems to me that think tanks have become a loophole, aided and abetted by the secrecy of their funding sources.

That, more than anything, is what this issue is about. Foreign national Christopher Chandler – the principal benefactor of the Legatum Institute – makes no secret of his business model and it takes little wit to establish that his interests would be best served by a "hard" Brexit, which his Institute so assiduously promotes.

It is not acceptable that his money should be used to buy influence and power, and especially without transparency or accountability. And nor is it acceptable that think tanks should get a free pass when it comes to their funding sources. The whole system needs to be brought under control.

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