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Brexit

UK trade minister accused by opponents of hiding think-tank meetings

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Secretary of State of International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss is seen outside Downing Street, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s trade minister has reclassified recent meetings with a pro-hard Brexit think tank as personal discussions, removing them from the public record and sparking opposition allegations that she wants to conceal their influence on public policy.

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.

Two meetings with trade minister Liz Truss and the IEA had originally been included in quarterly transparency data published on the government’s website and described as discussing trade. They were removed on Wednesday with a note explaining they were personal meetings - the first such revision since the department was created in 2016.

The opposition Labour Party said Truss appeared to be evading rules designed to ensure integrity, transparency and honesty in public office. Government rules require meetings with external organisations that discuss official business to be declared.

“It makes no sense for Liz Truss now to claim that meetings on those issues had nothing to do with her ministerial role, and suggests instead that she has something to hide, whether in terms of who attended the meetings or what specifically was discussed,” said a spokesman for Emily Thornberry, head of Labour’s trade policy brief.

The Department for International Trade said the meetings were initially included due to an administrative error, and they held no information about them. They declined to comment when asked how a meeting on trade and investment could be considered a personal meeting.

The IEA said it regularly hosted events and meetings with ministers and others, but did not provide any further details of the meetings with Truss.

“By definition, the private events we run do not involve the minuting or publication of the full, frank and free exchange of views which we try to ensure takes place,” a spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Andy Bruce and William James; editing by Richard Pullin

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