Emily Thornberry turns up the heat on Tory minister in row over Jeremy Corbyn smears

Alan Duncan and Emily Thornberry
Tom Coburg

On 12 December, foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan put up an aggressive defence of propaganda specialists the Integrity Initiative. This was in response to a question from shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry about the UK government’s funding of Integrity. When asked about its interference in UK domestic politics, Duncan categorically stated there was no evidence that Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) money was used for its UK activity.

But evidence that may suggest otherwise can be found in internal Integrity documents, referred to by The Canary and other publications. And now Thornberry has hit back, raising that same evidence in an open letter to Duncan.

Urgent question

Thornberry asked Duncan an ‘Urgent Question’ about whether UK government funds had been used by Integrity to carry out attacks on UK politicians, like Jeremy Corbyn:

Start your day with The Canary News Digest

Fresh and fearless; get excellent independent journalism from The Canary, delivered straight to your inbox every morning.

In a later exchange Conservative MP Julian Knight specifically referenced the work of The Canary on this matter.

Continue reading below...

Knight also went on the offensive and said:

we should not be falling into their traps [Russian disinformation] or even the sort of paranoia we’ve seen in the coverage of this, in the likes, let’s say, of the Canary and those type of publications

Evidence of Corbyn smears

The evidence that Integrity interferes in UK politics is irrefutable, as provided in detail by the Canary. This evidence includes now deleted Integrity tweets that attempted to smear Labour leader Corbyn and his associates. For example:

Funding

But Thornberry’s question to Duncan was largely about FCO funding. In an internal handbook (seen by The Canary), Integrity recommends to its members that:

if asked about our funding, be very clear: the Integrity Initiative is funded by the Institute for Statecraft. The IfS gets its funding from multiple sources to ensure its independence. These include: private individuals; charitable foundations; international organisations (EU, NATO); UK Govt (FCO, MOD)

On 27 November, in answer to a Written Question, Duncan confirmed:

In financial year 2017/18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO is funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.

However, in response to Thornberry’s Urgent Question, Duncan claimed the FCO:

does not fund any activity within the UK, nor does it fund the management of the Integrity Initiative’s social media account.

But an Integrity internal document on deliverables in relation to FCO funds clearly states that funding includes Twitter activity. Thornberry pointed this out to Duncan:

[Integrity] stated explicitly that one of its instruments of delivery will be its

 ‘600-plus Twitter followers, including influential players’.

And in another document, Integrity provides details of how FCO money should be spent – including on social media. But in the Commons exchange, Duncan was adamant:

Our agreement, written into the contract with the institute, specifically states that the grant must not be used to support activity intended to influence, or attempt to influence, the UK parliament, government or political parties. We have not seen any evidence that the integrity initiative have breached this obligation

It doesn’t end there

But that’s not the end of the matter. In a follow-up letter to Duncan, Thornberry is demanding further answers:

In her letter she quotes from internal Integrity documents about the project the FCO allegedly funds, including crucially:

She concludes with four questions, including, what appears to be a knock-out blow:

Bigger question

And there is perhaps an even bigger question: why is the FCO (and NATO) funding an organisation that directly interferes in the domestic politics of NATO countries (and who are UK allies)?

Integrity provides details of such interference in an internal document (released by Anonymous and seen by The Canary, but not reproduced here).

For example, Integrity’s Spain ‘cluster’ is credited with providing intelligence on the “Russian influence in the Catalan referendum process”. Integrity was also involved in what it calls the Moncloa Campaign, including launching Twitter attacks to prevent the appointment of Colonel Pedro Baños as director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security.

Inquiry

In the wake of these revelations, Integrity issued a statement. The Canary also sought responses from NATO and the FCO, but none were provided at the time of publication.

Transparency and accountability is paramount. In this respect, Thornberry asked Duncan:

were Foreign Office officials monitoring the integrity initiative’s social media output, given that it was an integral part of the activity for which it was being funded? If so, why did they not flag up concerns to him about the dissemination of personal attacks? If not, why was this misuse of public funds going unchecked?

Indeed, Duncan later conceded that:

if our funding were being used for that [discrediting the Labour Party], then yes, I would condemn it, and the contact would be withdrawn.

But his assurances are not enough. An independent inquiry into the work of Integrity is essential.

Featured image via YouTube and Flickr

Since you're here ...

We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.

The Canary Support