Downing Street defends visit to secretive group, where prime minister will not be accompanied by civil servants.
David Cameron is to attend the secretive Bilderberg group at the luxury Grove hotel in Watford on Friday evening, in a move that is likely to raise questions about his pledge to lead Britain’s most transparent government.
Downing Street said it was acting in an open manner by publicising the prime minister’s attendance in advance.
The PM’s spokesman, who said heads of government of countries hosting the annual Bilderberg meeting were usually invited to attend, said it would be a private event and that civil servants were not expected to attend.
No 10 is to clarify the position because ministers are usually expected to be accompanied by civil service note-takers when they meet business leaders. Henri de Castries, the chairman and CEO of the AXA Group, is the Bilderberg chairman.
The PM’s spokesman said: “He will participate in a discussion around domestic and global economic issues. He feels it is an opportunity to discuss economic issues with senior ministers, businesspeople and academics.”
Downing Street said that it would not publicise any details of the prime minister’s meetings. “It is a private meeting so we are not going to go into any further details,” the spokesman said.
“On a wider point the prime minister has always been clear about the importance of transparency which is why this government has taken a number of steps in terms of publishing more data, more information about meetings.”
The ministerial code, published by the government in September 2010, said that “external meetings” held by ministers would be published on a quarterly basis. It says: “Ministers meet many people and organisations and consider a wide range of views as part of the formulation of government policy. Departments will publish, at least quarterly, details of ministers’ external meetings.”
Cameron and Nick Clegg pledged when they formed the coalition to lead the most transparent government to date. The coalition agreement said: “The government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account.”
No 10 said it did not believe that civil servants would accompany the prime minister. Asked whether he would be accompanied by officials, the PM’s spokesman said: “I am not aware of any officials going. But I am happy to double check.”
Cameron’s attendance at the meeting brings to three the number of British ministers who will attend this year’s Bilderberg group summit. George Osborne is attending and Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, is a member of the group’s steering committee.
The Bilderberg group says the costs of the annual meeting are the responsibility of the steering group, whose members include the former Barclays chairman Marcus Agius, the CEO of the defence manufacturer EADS, Thomas Enders, and the Goldman Sachs chairman, Peter Sutherland.
The group says: “There is no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued.”