Minister launches probe after government-backed charity shared posts critical of Jeremy Corbyn
The Foreign Office has launched an investigation after a government-funded charity shared links critical of Jeremy Corbyn on social media.
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said he wanted a report on his desk by "10 o’clock this morning" after Fife-based Institute for Statecraft shared media articles on Twitter attacking the Labour leader.
The organisation's Integrity Initiative - which has has been backed by more than £2m in FCO funding over the past two years - describes its aim as "tackling disinformation in Europe" and "addressing the activities of the Russian state".
But the Sunday Mail reported that the organisation's Twitter account - which has around 2,600 followers - shared a series of links to media pieces critical of the Labour leader and his allies.
The feed has also shared articles critical of Conservative politicians, including one that urged Tory peers to "come clean about Russia links".
The Sunday Mail highlighted posts including a quote from an article that dubbed Mr Corbyn a "useful idiot" who "helped the Kremlin cause", as well as one that said the Labour leader's communications chief Seamuas Milne had worked "with the Kremlin agenda".
The report prompted Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry to demand an investigation.
"It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes," the Shadow Foreign Secretary said.
"So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named 'Integrity Initiative' - funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years - has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials."
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Alan revealed he had ordered his department to probe the report, saying he wanted to find out “why on earth” the account shared the links.
"I don’t know the facts but if there is any kind of organisation for which we are paying which is involved in domestic politics in that way, I would totally condemn it, and I have already over the weekend asked for a report to be on my desk by 10 o’clock this morning to say if there is any such activity," he said.
Asked whether the Initiative should now stop sharing links critical of the Labour leader, the minister said: "Not only must it stop, I want to know why on earth it happened in the first place."
Sir Alan had previously responded to a parliamentary written question from Labour MP Chris Williamson confirming that the Initiative received £296,500 in Foreign Office funding in 2017-18.
In the current financial year the funding is set to rise to £1,961,000.
He said at the time: "Such funding furthers our commitment to producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence."
The Institute for Statecraft said: "The IfS started the Integrity Initiative to highlight disinformation and malign influence across Europe.
"We are non-partisan and highlight relevant stories whoever they feature."