Neil O’Brien

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Neil O'Brien

Neil John O'Brien (born 6 November 1978) is the former director of Policy Exchange and the former director of Open Europe - both part of the Stockholm Network of free market think tanks.

He is a special adviser to the chancellor, George Osborne.


O'Brien was born and raised in Huddersfield and attended what he called 'a totally average-performing comprehensive'. [1] He says he was briefly a member of far left Socialist Workers Party when he was 17, adding, 'I tried to sell the paper at school but people didn’t want to buy it.' [2] He graduated from Oxford University in 2000 with a BA in politics, philosophy and economics and joined the campaign against Britain joining the single currency as an economics researcher. [3] According to an article in the Guardian, O'Brien 'has a background in City PR', [4] which if true was presumably before he joined the anti-EU campaign.

In May 2003, when O'Brien was a member of the campaign team of the No Campaign, it was reported that from June he would head a break away group provisionally called Vote 2004 to campaign for a referendum. [5] According to a report in The Times that June the group was set up by Lord Saatchi and by that point had already raised £2 million in funding. [6]

O'Brien was reportedly the campaign director of Vote 2004 which as the Independent explains: 'became Vote No - The Campaign Against the European Constitution. Now...known as No - The Campaign Against The European Constitution.' [7]

O'Brien was director of Open Europe from its launch in 2005 to September 2008 when it was announced that O'Brien had been appointed head of Policy Exchange. His appointment was welcomed by James Forsyth of The Spectator as 'great news for those of us on the centre-right who want to see a bold agenda for addressing the country’s problems laid out.' [8]

In 2012, it was announced that O'Brien would be working with George Osborne, advising him across the political landscape with a particular focus on how to reach voters in the north of England.[9]

Work for the Policy Forum on International Security Affairs

The 2006 accounts of the right-wing American Smith Richardson Foundation describe a $176,000 grant given to O'Brien to research and write a book on the EU for the Policy Forum on International Security Affairs. The project was titled Reforming the E.U. for the 21st Century: Roadmaps for Reform and described as follows:

Neil O’Brien will research and write a book exploring the future of the European Union. He will commission public opinion research, conduct interviews with leading European officials, and convene a series of meetings in order to develop a roadmap for reform of the European Union.[10]


  1. Ben Duckworth, 'In conversation with... Neil O'Brien', Total Politics, 8 February 2012
  2. Ben Duckworth, 'In conversation with... Neil O'Brien', Total Politics, 8 February 2012
  3. Adam Branson, 'Ire starter - Neil O'Brien, director, Policy Exchange', Regeneration and Renewal, 8 June 2009
  4. Andy Beckett, What can they be thinking?, Guardian, G2, 26 September 2008.
  5. Patrick Wintour, ‘Hain rebuffs EU referendum call’, Guardian, 19 May 2003;; p. 10; David Hughes, ‘Minister of Arrogance’, Daily Mail, 19 May 2003; p. 1
  6. David Hughes, ‘Minister of Arrogance’, Daily Mail, 19 May 2003; p. 1
  7. Steve Richards, 'A campaign with a winning message - and a complete lack of self-confidence', Independent, 19 May 2005
  8. James Forsyth, 'Neil O'Brien to head Policy Exchange', The Spectator, 12 September 2008
  9. Nicholas Watt George Osborne hires thinktank boss to attract new voters The Guardian, 30 November 2012, accessed 2 October 2014
  10. Annual Report 2006], Smith Richardson Foundation, Inc. Accessed 27 December 2008.