White House Archives / Shealah Craiughead

Conservative MPs are linked to a network of far-right American politicians, New Politic can reveal.

Three Conservative MPs — Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton — attended and addressed a conference hosted by the International Republican Institute in November this year, with all expenses paid for, including international transport, accommodation and meals totalling £6,069. The International Republican Institute is said to be “nonprofit, nonpartisan organisation committed to advancing freedom and democracy worldwide.” However, a closer look suggests others.

Those involved in the organisation — from US senators to businesspeople and policy advisers — hold views including an admiration for Donald Trump, climate change denial, an opposition to abortion, opposition to the minimum wage and union laws, and the belief that slavery was a “necessary evil”. Others involved in the Institute amongst have also been linked to the pursuit of the War in Iraq and the exploitation of its oil fields following the 2003 Invasion. Far from representing freedom and democracy, the Institute operates as a platform for the pro-Trump, American-far right, with devastating implications for British democracy.

There are various individuals listed on the International Republican Institute’s Board of Directors. The first is U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, who acts as the Institute’s chairman. A Senator for Alaska, Sullivan voted in line with President Donald Trump’s position 91.5% of the time, according to analysis from FiveThirtyEight. When Trump was impeached on two occasions — first for the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and second for inciting insurrection ahead of the Capitol riots (which left 5 dead and 138 police offices injured) — Sullivan voted to acquit Trump. In October 2020, Sullivan later announced he would be voting for Trump, saying the choice at the election was “very clear”.

Sen. Dan Sullivan / James K. McCann)

Sullivan has been the target of the Lincoln Project, a group of incumbent and former Republicans opposed to Trump. The founder of the Lincoln Project once stated that “Dan Sullivan, for his part is no longer a Republican. He’s no longer a conservative. He’s a Trumpist.”

Sullivan also rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, arguing that “the verdict is still out on the human contribution to climate change.” He also opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of another, as well as same sex marriage.

The Vice Chairman of the Institute is Randy Scheunemann, an American neoconservative lobbyist. Scheunemann played a critical role in the New American Century, a letterhead group that played an important role in building support for the Iraq War and the expansive War on Terror. Scheunemann also led the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a post-9/11 advocacy outfit that pushed for war in Iraq. Additionally, Scheunemann was also involved in drafting the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, a central piece of legislation that stated the policy of the United States at the time needed to “support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” Scheunemann authorised $98 million for the Iraqi National Congress, described as a “loose group of Iraqi dissidents” widely blamed for channeling false intelligence about Iraq.

According to a confidential memo leaked in late 2007, it was revealed that Scheunemann attempted to use his role in promoting the Iraq war to make money from Iraqi oil. A company called World Strategic Energy told prospective investors that Scheunemann could help them win oil contracts in Iraq, since he was well-connected to the Iraqi exile community and had been a “key player” in the country’s invasion.

Aside from management, there are numerous other board members of interest to the public. These include Kelly Ayotte, who was the U.S. Senator for New Hampshire between 2011 and 2017. Ayotte previously opposed increasing the minimum wage in line with inflation, as well as the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have allowed employees to form, join or assist unions.

In 2010, when asked about climate change, Ayotte acknowledged that “there is scientific evidence that demonstrates there is some impact from human activities,” but said “I don’t think the evidence is conclusive.” Alongside Roy Blunt, Ayotte was one of two senators who aimed to block President Barack Obama from negotiating an international agreement on climate change.

Other board members of the Institute have a history of flirting with the far right. They have also frequently made racially controversial remarks.

One such individual is board member Tom Cotton, the junior U.S. Senator for Arkansas. He once drew heavy criticism for his comments about race in America. Cotton previously called civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton “race-hustling charlatans” and claimed that race relations in America would “almost certainly improve if we stopped emphasising race in our public life.” After the murder of George Floyd, Cotton rejected the view there is “systemic racism in the criminal justice in America,” and advocated the suppression of protestors by using the military, stating that there should be “No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters and looters.” In the military, the term “no quarter” refers to the killing of lawfully surrendering combatants, which is listed as a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

Tom Cotton / Gage Skidmore

In an interview with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last year, Cotton also called the institution of slavery in America a “necessary evil,” stating that “as the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.” Historian Joshua Rothman responded to Cotton’s claims, arguing that slavery was neither “necessary” nor on the way to its “extinction” when America was founded, as it was a “choice defended or accepted by most white Americans for generations.”

Board Member Joni Ernst, who served as U.S. Senator for Iowa between 2011 and 2014, has also received similar criticism for her relationship with Steve King. King is a Republican House Representative known for his racist, white nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as his support for far-right politicians with neo-Nazi ties. When King faced a primary challenge for his house seat in 2016, Ernst endorsed King, stating he “stands strong for life and liberty.”

Like many of her colleagues on the Board of Directors, Ernst also rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. She previously said that any government regulation to address climate change should be very small, and in 2014 said “I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it’s manmade or not.” In 2018, she said “our climate always changes and we see those ebbs and flows through time.” In 2017, she supported Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and called for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are other famous U.S. politicians on the board, from Lindsey Graham to Marco Rubio, described by the National Journal in 2013 as the 17th most conservative senator. Rubio, like others in the Institute, also rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and is also an outspoken opponent of abortion — who previously said he would ban it even in cases of rape and incest.

The Conservative Party’s links to the Institute and far-right American politicians is harrowing for our democracy. It brings into question what influence they have on our own politicians and the agendas they choose to pursue in the Houses of Parliament. Previously, Byline Times revealed the link between pro-Trump hard-right lobby networks on climate change and the pandemic. As further connections are slowly uncovered between the Conservative Party and the far-right in America, Britain’s democracy increasingly comes into question.