UK government probes report it funded charity that targeted Jeremy Corbyn
- Leaked documents show Foreign Office was client of group that promoted tweets calling Labour leader a ‘useful idiot’ who helped Russia
The Foreign Office minister, Alan Duncan, has ordered an investigation into reports the government provided funding to a Scottish-based charity meant to counter online Russian propaganda, which also spread unfavourable views about Jeremy Corbyn.
The Institute for Statecraft, a small charity based in Fife, received hundreds of thousands of pounds in Foreign Office money.
According to the Sunday Mail, leaked documents show it tried to promote tweets calling the Labour leader a “useful idiot” who helped the Kremlin cause, and attacked members of his staff.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Duncan said he had learned about the allegations at the weekend and ordered an immediate investigation.
“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 if this meant anti-Labour attacks by Statecraft must stop, Duncan said: “Not only must it stop, I want to know why on Earth it happened in the first place.”
Duncan has previously responded to a parliamentary written question on the subject. His answer showed that in the 2017-18 financial year the Foreign Office paid the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500 (US$377,000). This financial year, the sum was due to rise to £1,961,000, the answer said.
According to the report, the charity’s programme is supposed to counter Russian disinformation by using “clusters” of journalists and others throughout Europe – with a unit reportedly proposed in Lithuania – using social media to respond.
But its official Twitter feed retweeted anti-Corbyn messages such as the one calling the Labour leader a “useful idiot”.
“His open visceral anti-westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money,” it tweeted.
Other messages targeted Corbyn’s chief aide, Seumas Milne. The charity retweeted a newspaper report that said: “Milne is not a spy – that would be beneath him. But what he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda.”
A spokesman for the charity told the Sunday Mail that he was not aware of the tweets criticising Corbyn. “I’m not the one who controls the Twitter account,” Stephen Dalziel said. “If it was criticism of one of our politicians, then that shouldn’t be on there.”