A Labour MP has said that Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan chose to ‘bury his head in the sand’ as he denied allegations that state funds granted to a shadowy ‘disinformation-fighting charity’ were used to attack Jeremy Corbyn.
“There is a real concern” that Duncan “was misleading Parliament whether that was wittingly or unwittingly,” Chris Williamson said on Sunday.
He was commenting on the official’s response to a question posed earlier by another Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, about government funding for the controversial Scotland-based ‘charitable body,’ the Institute for Statecraft (IfS).
Labour politicians demanded an official probe into the organization, insisting it participated in a campaign to “smear” the party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Duncan, who serves as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, said he had “established the facts” concerning the NGO and was “satisfied that our money does not go towards funding any kind of UK domestic activity.”
The Institute for Statecraft came under fire when Sunday Mail reported that the think tank used its ‘Integrity Initiative’ project to promote newspaper articles denouncing Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn as a “useful idiot” whose views “helped the Kremlin cause.” The project styles its mission as “revealing and combating propaganda and disinformation.”
In practice, nearly all materials published on its website are focused on fighting so-called ‘Russian propaganda.’
Citing the organization’s leaked documents, the Sunday Mail said that IfS received £2 million from the Foreign Office. The paper also reported that the charity itself is, in fact, registered at a derelict rural mill.
Faced with the Labour backlash, Duncan admitted that the government funded IfS’ Integrity Initiative with £296,500 in financial year 2017-2018 and is giving it £1,961,000 for the year 2018-2019. He refused, however, to publish the government’s correspondence on grant agreements with the project, saying that such information could be used by Moscow “to actively attempt to disrupt and undermine” its effectiveness.
Duncan’s claim that no state funds were used for an alleged campaign against Corbyn did little to quell the anger coming from Labour MPs. Williamson suggested that the minister “needs to realize that this isn’t going to go away and he must come up with some real answers rather than burying his head in the sand.”
His colleague Emily Thornberry told the Sunday Mail that Duncan’s words “just didn’t make sense.”
I found it genuinely confusing. I have never heard a minister say with such confidence that he is telling the truth.
Thornberry suggested that Duncan was simply reading the answers prepared by other government officials and “they just don’t stack up.”
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