Daniel Hannan's Initiative for Free Trade bangs the brexit drum, but who's paying for the sticks?

The organisation that promotes 'the moral case for free trade' came over all coy when the Independent asked about its paymasters 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Wednesday 21 November 2018 11:50 GMT
Daniel Hannan: The Tory Euro MP is President of an organisation called the 'Initiative for Free Trade'
Daniel Hannan: The Tory Euro MP is President of an organisation called the 'Initiative for Free Trade' (ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

Brexiteer Tory Euro MP Daniel Hannan was out and about today blowing the trumpet for what he calls the ‘Initiative for Free Trade’ (IFT).

The occasion was the publication of a study by the organisation that claims the UK staying in the European Customs Union will prevent us striking the sort of trade deals most business leaders say won’t even come close to making up for what we’re about to lose through quitting the EU.

To be honest, it’s the sort of thing we’ve heard a million times before from any number of Brexiteer ideologues. But I used its publication as a jumping off point to ask a rather simple question: Who is paying for it?

The answer I got spoke volumes.

First a bit of background. The IFT is billed as ‘non partisan’ but its ‘advisory board’ is nonetheless made up of a smorgasbord of Conservative yesterday’s men and women. Former Tory leader Michael Howard, former Spanish PM José María Aznar and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott are prominent among them.

There’s also Ben Sasse, the Republican Senator from Nebraska, who claims to be an independent conservative but has voted with the decidedly anti free trade President Donald Trump 87 per cent of the time, per an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com.

Hannan has managed to find some business types to sit with the think tankers on the ‘executive board’, such as Brexiteer blowhard Lord Digby Jones, a former CBI chief who now lives on another planet to most of its members.

The ITF has offices in London, near the Embankment, where they can meet together with an august corps of ‘fellows’ and a PR agency for the purposes of making ‘the moral case for open commerce’.

Given its ostensibly idealistic aims, you might think that the ‘private individuals, commercial and non-commercial organisations’ putting their hands in their pockets to advance its aims would be only too keen to shout their association with it from the rooftops.

If I were contributing to an outfit whose cause, we are told, ‘is the ultimate instrument of poverty alleviation, conflict resolution and social justice’ I’d certainly want people to know about it.

Strangely, however, that’s not the case for the funders of Mr Hannan’s group.

Here’s the answer I got to my question on the subject: “The majority of our income comes in the form of donations from private individuals.

“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.”

I could be wrong, but that looks very much like the organisation is trying to have it both ways. Dare I suggest that the ITF wants to have its cake and eat it?

Now, stop me if you’ve heard that before from the Brexit crew.

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