EXCLUSIVE-UK trade minister reverses decision to remove think tank meetings from public register -letter

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LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - British trade minister Liz Truss has reversed an earlier decision to remove meetings she held with an influential free-market think tank from the public record, a letter written to the opposition Labour Party showed on Thursday.

Two meetings and a dinner with the Institute of Economic Affairs were removed from government-published transparency data in August after the department said they were held in a personal capacity, not in her role as trade minister.

That prompted sharp criticism from Labour, who accused her of trying to hide the meetings and wrote to Truss seeking to determine whether she had broken the ministerial code of conduct which covers the disclosure of meetings.

On Thursday, one of Truss’s junior ministers replied to Labour to say that the meetings would now be reinstated on the public record, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

“The Secretary of State (Truss) was not immediately aware of these changes made at the end of August, and has now carefully considered the appropriate Cabinet Office guidelines,” Graham Stuart wrote in the letter.

“Sometimes it is not entirely clear-cut whether an event is ‘political’ or is independent of a Minister’s official responsibilities. However, in the interests of full transparency, she has asked that these entries are to be reinstated as per the original departmental publication.”

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most influential right-leaning think tanks. It promotes free-markets and has argued strongly for a clean break from the European Union since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The department originally said the meeting had been included due to an administrative error.

Labour’s trade policy chief Emily Thornberry said Truss had been caught out, and that there were further questions to be answered about the meetings, including who she met and what was discussed.

“Behind this shambolic farce, there is a serious issue,” Thornberry told Reuters.

“The Cabinet Office rules exist to stop secret lobbying, dodgy dealing, and favours for cronies. Those rules are an important part of our democracy, and not for the first time, Liz Truss has been caught out apparently trying to get around them.” (Reporting by William James and Andy Bruce; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, William Maclean)