Matt Hancock has been touting the work of an unregistered company that risks being taken to court for having used the name “institute” without approval.
The Digital Economy Institute was set up in March 2022 and has published a series of reports on cryptocurrency.
Hancock wrote a foreword to one such report, defending crypto over “misplaced” claims it was being used by Russians to circumvent sanctions. He has also praised the body at speeches to the crypto industry.
But ten months after launching, the Digital Economy Institute – on whose advisory board Hancock sits – has not registered at Companies House or with the Charity Commission.
It has also failed to obtain permission to use the term institute, which is protected by law and carries the possibility of a court case and a fine of up to £1,000 for failure to comply.
Companies House, which grants that permission, confirmed to Tortoise it had not received any paperwork.
A spokesperson said: “We are in the process of making enquiries with this organisation to clarify this matter.”
Hancock told a CityAM crypto event last June that he was “helping set up” the organisation, which he repeatedly name-checked.
He added: “I’ve made it my mission to make Britain love crypto… The Institute has a mission to make the UK the jurisdiction of choice for crypto.”
Hancock also enthused about the DEI at Zebu Live, another crypto conference, in September, an organiser confirmed.
The connection between Hancock and the DEI came to light as part of Tortoise’s work on the Westminster Accounts. Although he was not paid for his appearance at either event mentioned above, his declared earnings from speeches this parliament amount to £12,447.
Hancock has not received any money from the DEI, according to the MPs’ register of interests.
Separately, a research fellow at the DEI, Harry Pearce Gould “works for the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP and support’s [sic] his work on financial sector innovation, crypto assets and regulatory reform,” according to the DEI website. Gould is also on Hancock’s parliamentary staff but makes no mention of his DEI role in the register of staffers’ interests.
Helen Thomas, director of the DEI, co-wrote a book with Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi in 2011 on the lessons of the 2008 financial crash.
The DEI did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for Hancock told Tortoise: “The DEI is a not for profit policy organisation with no financial links to Matt whatsoever. This minor technical issue, with regards to its name, has already been brought to their attention and is being resolved. Any insinuation of impropriety is both ridiculous and absurd.”
After Tortoise contacted Hancock and the DEI, its website abruptly went offline, to reappear shortly afterwards rebranded as the Digital Economy Initiative.
This is not the first time a parliamentarian has been caught up in the rule on use and misuse of “institute”.
Lord Hannan, the leading Brexiteer and Tory peer, was forced to change the name of his Institute for Free Trade or risk a fine, the Guardian reported in 2017. He subsequently received approval, and the name has recently been resurrected.