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

LONDON, Sept 3- 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. That prompted sharp criticism from Labour, who accused her of trying to hide the meetings and wrote to Truss seeking to…

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By William James and Andy Bruce

LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) – British trade minister Liz Trusshas reversed an earlier decision to remove meetings she heldwith an influential free-market think tank from the publicrecord, a letter written to the opposition Labour Party showedon Thursday.

Two meetings and a dinner with the Institute of EconomicAffairs were removed from government-published transparency datain August after the department said they were held in a personalcapacity, not in her role as trade minister.

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

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

“The Secretary of State (Truss) was not immediately aware ofthese changes made at the end of August, and has now carefullyconsidered the appropriate Cabinet Office guidelines,” GrahamStuart wrote in the letter.

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

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

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

Labour’s trade policy chief Emily Thornberry said Truss hadbeen caught out, and that there were further questions to beanswered about the meetings, including who she met and what wasdiscussed.

“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 animportant part of our democracy, and not for the first time, LizTruss has been caught out apparently trying to get around them.”(Reporting by William James and Andy Bruce; editing by GuyFaulconbridge, William Maclean)

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