A THINK tank linked to “big tobacco” could “hold the key to No 10” due to connections to Tory MPs, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) claims.

In research published today, the organisation says direct and indirect financial links between the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and more than a score of MPs – including several potential leadership candidates – could put public health interventions at risk.

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In the past year, the body has described measures such as alcohol controls and sugar taxes as “pointless,” “absurd” and “draconian”. The report states: “The IEA is secretive about its funding sources, but The BMJ can report that the organisation is in part funded by British American Tobacco. In the past it has also taken money from the gambling, alcohol, sugar and soft drinks industries.”

It continues: “The concern is that public health policies could be put at risk under a new Tory leadership, including current plans for calorie labelling and for advertising restrictions designed to tackle childhood obesity.”

The National:

The IEA was credited by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 with creating “the climate of opinion” that made the Tory victory possible.

The report documents funding directed to the party’s current cohort of MPs by those closely connected to the organisation in recent years. They include Neil Record, chair of its board of trustees, and fellow trustee Michael Hintze.

Record is listed as donating £2000 to the constituency party of John Lamont in 2017, the year he defeated the SNP’s sitting MP Calum Kerr in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency.

The National: The chair of the IEA's board of trusted is listed as donating to the constituency party of Scottish Tory MP John LamontThe chair of the IEA's board of trusted is listed as donating to the constituency party of Scottish Tory MP John Lamont

Matt Hancock, one of those tipped to be the next prime minister, received a total declared value of £32,000 in support of parliamentary work and MP travel costs from Record between 2010 and 2017, prior to his appointment as health secretary at Westminster.

Meanwhile, Hintze, who donated almost £4 million to the Tory party from 2002-2018, made a contribution to the staffing and running of Liam Fox’s private office in 2008.

Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, Caroline Nokes, Mark Garnier and David Davis also are among those said to have benefited from his support.

Davis is among three politicians who received expenses and hospitality from the IEA last year.

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Rebecca Coombes, BMJ head of news and views, said the findings “raise important questions about the potential for bias and conflict of interest” and that all think tanks should be obliged to publish a list of donors.

The IEA says it keeps that information confidential to respect the privacy of backers. A spokesperson told The National the funding information listed in the report had been “in the public domain for years”, stating: “The report also implies that the IEA funds – directly and indirectly – members of parliament. The IEA talks to MPs across the political spectrum, as do all other think tanks. This isn’t a ‘funding link’. The IEA does not give money to any political efforts, and we consider these suggestions to be slanderous.

“The BMJ’s insinuation is that we only purport a free market analysis because we are paid to. This is categorically untrue. If the BMJ, or any other outlet, really believe that IEA authors and spokespeople are socialist, tax-loving, big-state advocates at heart, who only advocate free-market economics for a pay cheque, then they are badly mistaken, and again, we consider such accusations to be slanderous.”

The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment.