UK Labour Party demands answers of trade minister Truss over think-tank meetings

FILE PHOTO: Britain's International Trade Secretary Liz Truss arrives at Downing Street in London, Britain February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour Party wrote to trade minister Liz Truss on Thursday demanding answers over the circumstances of her meetings with a hardline Brexit think tank which were removed from the public record.

Truss’s Department for International Trade reclassified two meetings and one dinner with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) because it said she had attended in a personal capacity and therefore they did not need to be declared in transparency data published by the government.

In a letter seen by Reuters, Labour’s trade policy chief Emily Thornberry wrote to Truss with a series of questions seeking to establish if she had broken the code of conduct which covers ministerial behaviour.

On Wednesday, the Department for International Trade said the meetings were initially included due to an administrative error, and it held no information about them. It declined to comment when asked how a meeting on trade and investment could be considered a personal meeting.

Thornberry’s questions included whether a ministerial car was used to attend the meetings, whether they were held in ministerial offices, who else attended them, and whether any taxpayer-funded resources were used.

“I am sure you appreciate the seriousness of all the above questions in terms of your compliance with the Ministerial Code, and I hope that will be reflected in the seriousness, thoroughness and credibility of your answers,” Thornberry said.

She highlighted a series of trade-related publications from the IEA published within the timeframe of the meetings between January and April and said she considered it “highly unlikely that none of these issues were discussed.”

The ministerial code says meetings on official business should be arranged through a minister’s office, and an official should be present. Any discussion of official business in another setting should be reported back to the department.

“Once you have provided those answers, I will turn to the reasons why, and circumstances under which, the official record was altered,” she said.

Reporting by William James and Andy Bruce; editing by Stephen Addison