Interfaith charity confirms closure after Government funding withdrawn

A charity which had for almost 40 years worked to promote good relations between people of different faiths across the UK has confirmed it will close after Government funding was withdrawn.

The Inter Faith Network (IFN) said its board of trustees met on Thursday and agreed that “with much regret” it will shut down.

The Government had previously said that, because a member of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was appointed to the charity’s “core governance structure” last year, it had decided to withdraw the offer of new funding for the organisation.

The Government said it has held a consistent policy of non-engagement with the MCB and communities minister Felicity Buchan told Parliament on Thursday that the MCB member’s appointment “therefore poses a reputational risk to Government”.

Government minister Felicity Buchan said the appointment of an MCB member to the core governance structure of the organisation poses a reputational risk to Government (Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)
Government minister Felicity Buchan said the appointment of an MCB member poses a reputational risk to Government (Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

The MCB described the decision as being “particularly vindictive” and said it is “reflective of a preference to pursue divisive culture wars rather than cross-community harmony”.

The IFN said while it understood a Government can choose not to engage with bodies for reasons that it is not required to make public, “it would be difficult for a charity to do so” when an organisation is not proscribed and has not had legal action taken against it.

The charity said “division would certainly be sown if there was an attempt to expel from membership, without its having been proscribed, found guilty of illegal actions or in some way acted so as to bring reputational damage to IFN, an organisation that has among its members (and therefore represents) over 500 national, regional and local Muslim organisations, mosques, charities and schools.”

Labour’s Sir Stephen Timms told the Commons the Government was shutting down the main forum for Muslim-Jewish dialogue in the UK at an “extraordinarily stupid” time.

But Sir Stephen criticised the decision and the timing, especially in light of the chaotic scenes in the Commons just a day earlier over a vote on Gaza.

He said: “Is it not, given the debate in this chamber yesterday, extraordinarily stupid to be shutting down at this precise point our principal vehicle in the UK for Muslim-Jewish dialogue?

“Surely we need more, not to be shutting that down?”

He said the charity, founded in 1987, had made a “very important contribution” to the UK for almost four decades.

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers described the current situation as “regrettable” and said while she understands “the importance of not engaging with organisations which have hardline views”, there surely must be “a compromise” to be found for a charity which she said does “incredibly valuable work”.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman said of the funding withdrawal: “It’s the wrong time, and the wrong move”, while shadow communities minister Liz Twist said interfaith dialogue is now “more important than ever”, given recent events such as “the war and the violence in Gaza”.

An IFN founding member, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, told the House of Lords: “It’s particularly sad that the reason given is that the board contains a member of the Muslim Council of Britain – it is not a proscribed organisation and it is better to have people with different views talking together to move the country forward into respect for one another.”

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the MCB, said: “At a time of conflict and disharmony, why would the Government choose to vandalise interfaith relations?”

She added that the MCB is “sorry that the Inter Faith Network and interfaith relations generally have been the victim of an inexplicable campaign by divisive ideologues”.

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Interfaith work is hugely important but that does not require us to use taxpayer money in a way that legitimises the influence of organisations such as the MCB.

“The Inter Faith Network cannot rely on continuous taxpayer funding.

“We regularly remind our partners, including the IFN, of the importance of developing sustainable funding arrangements, rather than relying on taxpayers’ money, which can never be guaranteed.”

The IFN said: “The organisation is now on the path to closure and IFN trustees and staff will be working to bring the organisation’s work to a close and to preserve its legacy in ways that enable others to build strongly on that in the future.”

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that, in line with our guidance, the Inter Faith Network has filed a serious incident report relating to the likelihood that it will need to close due to funding issues.”

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