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MPs accuse Charity Commission of legal breach over climate sceptic thinktank
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MPs accuse Charity Commission of legal breach over climate sceptic thinktank

The Charity Commission is facing a legal challenge by MPs over its failure to investigate campaigning by a thinktank that questions climate science.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, Labour’s Clive Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas, supported by the Good Law Project, have sent a legal letter to the regulator over an unresolved complaint they made in October 2022.

They have urged the regulator to strip the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) of its charitable status, arguing it does not meet its aims as a charity and is in fact a lobbying organisation.

After being asked for updates by the MPs, the regulator stated in November 2022, January 2023, February 2023 and September 2023 that it was still in the preliminary stages of assessing the complaint.

In a legal letter, the MPs now argue that the regulator has acted unlawfully in failing to make a timely decision on whether GWPF or its trustees have breached charity law, and, where necessary, what regulatory action it will take. They say the delay is leading to an “unlawful distortion of the public debate regarding the most pressing issue of our time”.

The original complaint accused the GWPF of breaching charity law by spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on one-sided research and passing money to its subsidiary Net Zero Watch to attack policies aimed at tackling the climate emergency.

Net Zero Watch, a campaigning platform highlighting what it calls the “costs of net zero”, was set up after a previous investigation by the Charity Commission found that the GWPF had breached rules on impartiality.

The complaint claims that money from the charitable foundation is funding non-charitable lobbying work by its campaigning arm. Net Zero Watch has lobbied MPs by providing briefings questioning climate policy. The Good Law Project has pointed out that the GWPF benefits from tax breaks as a charity, so money passed on to Net Zero Watch for campaigning purposes could have avoided being fully taxed.

The GWPF exists to question policy around the climate crisis, and was set up by former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson, who has said climate change is not a threat, but “happening very gently at a fraction of a degree per decade, which is something we can perfectly well live with”.

Ian Browne, the Good Law Project’s legal manager, said: “While the Charity Commission sits on this complaint, GWPF can keep peddling its dangerous climate denial while enjoying both the boost to its reputation and the tax advantages of being an educational charity.

“The regulator’s refusal to act is damaging public trust in the charity sector and is a kick in the teeth for the thousands of organisations that scrupulously stick to the rules.”

The thinktank has produced reviews – at odds with mainstream science – that claim the climate emergency is not happening. Tory MPs have at various times been trustees of the thinktank, including until recent years the Northern Ireland minister, Steve Baker. He quit his trusteeship when he took up his ministerial post.

In November 2022, the Charity Commission said it was reviewing the complaint against the thinktank. At the time, it said in a letter to the Good Law Project: “I can assure you that we are actively considering the information provided. We will be in touch when we have a further substantive update in this case.”

The GWPF has been contacted for comment. A spokesperson previously said in response to the allegations: “It is right and proper that non-charitable activities are not funded by charitable donations and we take great care to ensure this does not happen. Any suggestion to the contrary, or attack on the academic credibility of the foundation’s publications, is unfounded. We will, as always, cooperate fully with any questions the Charity Commission considers it appropriate to ask of us.”

A spokesperson from the Charity Commission said: “We can confirm that we have received a letter from the Good Law Practice regarding the Global Warming Policy Foundation and will be responding to them separately. A regulatory compliance case was opened into the Global Warming Policy Foundation when an ‘open letter’ of complaint was received in 2022. During this time, we have been constructively engaging with trustees on the issues raised. We plan to publicly report on the outcome of the case once it has been concluded. Scrutinising the available evidence thoroughly and with due care takes time.”

Source: theguardian.com