UK politics live: Starmer accuses Sunak of taxation ‘hypocrisy’

UK politics live: Starmer accuses Sunak of taxation ‘hypocrisy’

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14:19

Starmer accuses Sunak of taxation ‘hypocrisy’, and demands assurance no other ministers benefiting from non-dom status

And here is a fuller account of what Keir Starmer has been saying about the Sunak family’s tax arrangements on a campaign visit to Sunderland. Like Wes Streeting this morning (see 11.03am), Starmer argued that unfairness was the real problem, not potential breaches of the ministerial code.

  • Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of taxation “hypocrisy” on the grounds that he was putting up taxes for ordinary Britons while his family has been reducing its own tax liabilities. Starmer said:

While he insists on making working people pay more taxes, the prime minister owes it to the public to confirm his cabinet are not finding ways to pay less.

The scale of the chancellor’s hypocrisy is difficult to swallow against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis. We now know that the health secretary – the former chancellor – also knows his way around a tax-reduction scheme.

To appoint one chancellor with suspect tax affairs is sloppy, to appoint two is a habit. It really is one rule for them, and another for everyone else.

It is Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, who has non-dom status, and Sunak’s initial response to this revelation was to insist that her financial affairs were not a matter for him. But the couple implicitly conceded the weakness of this argument at the end of last week, when Murty said she would start paying UK tax on her worldwide income (even though her non-dom status allows her not to), and Starmer is arguing that Sunak must share responsibility for his wife’s decisions.

  • Starmer said the Sunak family tax arrangements were unfair. He said:

I think most of the public would be really surprised to learn, as they have been learning over the last few days, that members of the cabinet who are saying to the public there’s no alternative but for you to pay more tax are themselves making use of schemes to reduce their own taxation. I think that’s why people feel this is an essentially a matter of real fairness.

  • He challenged Boris Johnson to confirm that no other cabinet ministers have been using non-dom arrangements to reduce their tax. He said:

We know that the chancellor’s family appear to have used a scheme to reduce their tax. We now know that the former chancellor used a scheme to reduce his tax …

What I want from the prime minister is an assurance, an assurance as to whether other members of the cabinet have been using these schemes to reduce their tax. And I think on behalf of everybody who is now paying more tax we are entitled to answer to that question.

Asked what schemes to reduce tax were unacceptable, Starmer replied:

I don’t think this is complicated. I don’t know many people who use a non-dom scheme to increase their tax. It’s a basic way of reducing the tax that you pay in this country. I don’t think there’s any confusion on behalf of the public in relation to this.

Starmer’s answer implies that he wants to keep the focus just on non-dom status rather than open up a wider debate about what constitutes tax avoidance.

  • Starmer said that he would expect all his cabinet ministers to pay their taxes in full. He said:

We would have an absolutely fair system and I would expect all members of my cabinet to pay their full taxes in this country. It’s a shame we can’t say the same about the prime minister.

Keir Starmer speaking to reporters at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland.
Keir Starmer speaking to reporters at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
17:22

Afternoon summary

  • Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of taxation “hypocrisy” on the grounds that he is putting up taxes for ordinary Britons while his family has been reducing its own tax liabilities. (See 2.19pm.) The Labour leader spoke out after No 10 confirmed that the independent adviser on ministerial standards will investigate Sunak’s declarations as a minister to see if they comply with the ministerial code. But No 10 would not confirm that the inquiry will cover Sunak’s decision to keep his US green card when he joined the government, and even when he became chancellor (see 12.29pm), as Labour says it should (see 12.56pm).

Wakefield is a heavily Leave voting seat in South Yorkshire, which was Labour for 87 years prior to 2019. The current Con majority is pretty slim. This would be a must-win for Keir Starmer given the circumstances in which the by-election is happening. 2/?

— Rob Ford 💙💛 (@robfordmancs) April 11, 2022

3/? There have been relatively few by-elections in Conservative-Labour marginals since Labour went into opposition in 2010. Labour haven’t won one since capturing Corby following Louise Mensch’s resignation in 2012 (they went on to lose the seat again in 2015)

— Rob Ford 💙💛 (@robfordmancs) April 11, 2022

(4/? – correction: Wakefield is of course West Yorkshire, not South Yorkshire – my apologies for the error)

— Rob Ford 💙💛 (@robfordmancs) April 11, 2022

That’s it from me for today. For the latest from Ukraine, you can read our Ukraine live blog:

17:05

Even though Rishi Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, effectively conceded last week, when Murty announced she would pay more tax, that they could no longer maintain that their financial affairs were entirely separate (because her tax breaks must have benefited the whole family – see 2.19pm), the message does not seem to have got through to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit minister. He posted this on Twitter this morning.

That triggered this response from Labour’s Jess Phillips.

Various Tories have tried to spin that the facts uncovered about Chancellor’s wife, which she has now agreed to change is some how anti feminist. First, I don’t remember seeing them in lobbies on votes to split universal credit payments which now get paid to 1 person in household https://t.co/k9SpPKoKT4

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 11, 2022

Second. Being a feminist isn’t about ignoring the ills of women it is about the liberation of women to choose, in that liberation they should face scrutiny of those choices on the basis of the choices not the basis of their sex.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 11, 2022

Third, are they honestly pretending that Rishi Sunak gets no benefit from his wife’s finance or her tax status would not in any way influence his views of tax policy.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 11, 2022

Finally I won’t take feminist advice from those who vote against abortion rights, have allocated more money for royal boat than for women’s refuges, put rape clauses in benefits rules, have impoverished single moms, and put migrant victims of rape in detention when they speak up.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 11, 2022

16:54

A £19,500 artwork commissioned to represent the 2019 general election has gone on display in parliament, PA Media reports. PA says:

The taxpayer-funded project is the first mobile to enter the Parliamentary Art Collection.

The brightly coloured suspended sculpture, which is on display in Portcullis House, was created by Nicky Hirst, who was selected to be parliament’s official election artist for 2019.

The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art has commissioned an election artist for each general election since 2001, with the resulting artwork being acquired for the parliamentary art collection.

The latest addition, entitled There Was A Time 2019-20, is the result of the artist’s travels throughout the election, as she followed the campaign trail and attended related events such as hustings and manifesto launches.

The mobile’s moving form is intended to represent the “carousel” of stories and people at the election, and the 64 colourful abstract shapes aim to signify politicians and voters, and to celebrate the diversity of the election.

Hirst, who was born in Nottingham and grew up in Leeds, said she wanted the piece “to not only reflect our democratic process but also the diversity and myriad of opinion I saw and heard within the electorate”.

She said: “The general election campaign of 2019 unusually took place in the cold and wet months of November and December. As I travelled around the country, almost every town and city I visited had its own Christmas market, with a Ferris wheel or carousel. These rides, combined with huge station and town hall clocks, focused the mind on concepts around time and movement – specifically the cycle of the electoral campaigns I was following.”

The artwork commissioned to represent the 2019 general election on display in parliament.
The artwork commissioned to represent the 2019 general election on display in parliament. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

16:50

National Education Union calls Ofsted’failed project’ and says it should be replaced

The president of the National Education Union has said that Ofsted “is and always has been a failed project”. Speaking at the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth earlier today, Daniel Kebede said that Ofsted was a “project that sends your workload rocketing and drives so much of the rot in education”. He went on:

If what they did had any value they would prove it, but they have never published any evidence to prove that their inspections are accurate … Ofsted were absent without leave during the pandemic. They were nowhere to be seen in our schools, and they were not missed.

Subsequently the union voted to establish a new commission investigating the reliability of Ofsted’s judgements, and to create a new inspection system for schools based on “collaborative support”.

Following the conference vote, Mary Bousted, the union’s joint general secretary, said in a statement:

Ofsted has been the thorn in the side of both teachers and education for decades. No school expects to not have an accountability system in place, but Ofsted represents all that is wrong about the tick-box approach to education that successive governments have pursued.

For too long, this unfair and unreliable inspectorate has driven up unnecessary workload and stress for education professionals, significantly contributing to the alarming numbers leaving the profession every year. Research shows that Ofsted is unfairly biased against schools and colleges in poor areas and is far more likely to slap them with an unjust negative judgement – even if they are improving.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Ofsted’s establishment, but the National Audit Office (NAO) have recently concluded that even Ofsted itself doesn’t know if its measures are having the intended impact …

It’s not right that teachers and school leaders live in dread of the current toxic inspectorate. It needs to go, and we urge government to work with us to create a new approach which is supportive, effective and fair.

16:38
Keir Starmer taking a walk with local teenagers during a visit today to the SARA Project based at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland.
Keir Starmer taking a walk with local teenagers during a visit today to the SARA Project based at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
16:35

When Rishi Sunak announced that the government was cutting energy bills by £200, but asking people to repay the money in £40 installments over five years, the Treasury called this a “rebate”. But it’s a loan, and the attempt by ministers to pretend it isn’t has been met with derision.

As the i’s Paul Waugh points out, the government has now quietly rebranded it.

16:23

Today is the day when the annual rise in the value of benefits takes effect. Most of them are going up by 3.1%, in line with inflation in September, even though inflation reached twice that level in February, and is forecast to rise even more.

On Radio 4’s the World at One, the Conservative MP Nigel Mills said that, if inflation remained high, he thought the government would have to provide more help for claimants.

As we get through summer and into the autumn, if inflation is still anything like the level it is now, we’ll have to give people more help, otherwise they just won’t be able to to pay all the bills next autumn and winter.

This, from Labour’s Jess Phillips, gives an insight into what MPs are hearing from their constituents about the cost of living crisis.

In my office today with constituents all day so far today have had two women break down in tears about not being able to make ends meet. The cost of living crisis is not just a headline phrase it is a disaster.

— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) April 11, 2022

15:45

Momentum says abolishing non-dom status should be ‘no-brainer’ for Labour

Under Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn Labour went into general elections committed to abolishing non-dom status. But for the moment the party has abandoned that pledge. When Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, was asked about it in interviews this morning, he just said Labour was reviewing its stance on tax, and he seemed to take some pleasure in telling the Today programme that just because something was in Corbyn’s manifesto, that did not mean it was policy now.

Momentum, the Labour group set up to defend Corbyn and his policies, has said that wanting to abolish non-dom status should be a “no-brainer” for the party.

The public are rightly fed up of the rich not paying their fair share

By calling for the abolition of the non-dom loophole, Labour would show it’s in touch with public outrage and put clear red water between our party and an unpopular Tory elite.

It’s a no-brainer.

— Momentum 🌹 (@PeoplesMomentum) April 11, 2022

In an interesting article for ConservativeHome, David Gauke, a Treasury minister at the time, recalls the panic created in Tory circles when Ed Miliband announced plans to scrap non-dom status during the 2015 election campaign. The Conservatives only relaxed when a recording emerged of Ed Balls, the then shadow chancellor, telling a meeting a few months earlier that abolishing non-dom status completely might be a bad idea.

Gauke claims that the Tory policy, which has involved tightening non-dom rules, but not abolishing the perk altogether, makes sense. He says:

Some non-doms contribute a lot of tax to the UK and if they decide to move elsewhere this may more than outweigh any additional revenue from taxing the worldwide income of those non-doms who stay. Back in January 2015, Ed Balls was raising a fair concern.

But, in an interview with LBC this morning, Balls himself said that now it was time for a rethink on non-dom policy. He said that the distribution of income across society had changed considerably from what it was when Labour came to power, and he said Labour was reviewing policy in this area anyway. He predicted that Rishi Sunak would do something too. He said:

If I had to have a hunch for your listeners, I would say this chancellor will have to act now on non-dom tax status and pre-empt what comes from the opposition parties, because his position now won’t be secure unless he sorts this out.

15:19
Rishi Sunak holding a Q&A with Treasury staff at its Darlington campus this morning.
Rishi Sunak holding a Q&A with Treasury staff at its Darlington campus this morning. Photograph: HM Treasury/flickr
15:15

The Foreign Office has announced sanctions against Bosnian-Serb politicians Milorad Dodik and Željka Cvijanović for “deliberately undermining the hard-won peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. In a statement, it said:

Emboldened by Russia’s undermining of the international rules-based system, both individuals have used their positions of authority to push for de facto secession of Republika Srpska – one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 2 entities – in direct contravention of the country’s constitution.

Milorad Dodik has driven action to withdraw Republika Srpska from key state institutions, using divisive, dangerous, nationalist rhetoric, undermining domestic and regional peace and encouraging ethnic hatred and genocide denial.

Meanwhile, in October 2021, Zeljka Cvijanović used her office to table legislation in Republika Srpska seeking to transfer state competencies to the entity level. Cvijanovićhas publicly glorified war criminals and denied the genocide at Srebrenica.

Dodik is the Bosnian-Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-member presidency, and Cvijanović is president of Republika Srpska.

15:06

Downing Street has rejected a call by NHS leaders to reintroduce greater mask-wearing and a push to encourage mixing outdoors, PA Media reports. PA says:

The NHS Confederation urged the government to reconsider its “living with Covid” plan as it said that ministers risk “abandoning” the NHS if they do not take action.

The membership body, which represents healthcare organisations, warned that very high rates of Covid infections are having a “major impact” on the health service, which is facing pressures as they would in a “bad winter” well into spring.

It urged ministers to reinvigorate its public information campaign on Covid-19, including a renewed focus on mask wearing and encouraging to meet up outdoors and in well-ventilated places whenever possible.

Downing Street rejected the proposals but said that it was “alive to the pressures” that the NHS is facing.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “There is no change to our guidance and our living with Covid plan still stands. Thanks to a combination of vaccination and treatment and our better understanding of the virus we are now able to manage it as we do with other respiratory infections, so that remains the case with our approach. But obviously we continue to monitor any changes in the behaviour of the virus.”

14:19

Starmer accuses Sunak of taxation ‘hypocrisy’, and demands assurance no other ministers benefiting from non-dom status

And here is a fuller account of what Keir Starmer has been saying about the Sunak family’s tax arrangements on a campaign visit to Sunderland. Like Wes Streeting this morning (see 11.03am), Starmer argued that unfairness was the real problem, not potential breaches of the ministerial code.

  • Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of taxation “hypocrisy” on the grounds that he was putting up taxes for ordinary Britons while his family has been reducing its own tax liabilities. Starmer said:

While he insists on making working people pay more taxes, the prime minister owes it to the public to confirm his cabinet are not finding ways to pay less.

The scale of the chancellor’s hypocrisy is difficult to swallow against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis. We now know that the health secretary – the former chancellor – also knows his way around a tax-reduction scheme.

To appoint one chancellor with suspect tax affairs is sloppy, to appoint two is a habit. It really is one rule for them, and another for everyone else.

It is Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty , who has non-dom status, and Sunak’s initial response to this revelation was to insist that her financial affairs were not a matter for him. But the couple implicitly conceded the weakness of this argument at the end of last week, when Murty said she would start paying UK tax on her worldwide income (even though her non-dom status allows her not to), and Starmer is arguing that Sunak must share responsibility for his wife’s decisions.

  • Starmer said the Sunak family tax arrangements were unfair. He said:

I think most of the public would be really surprised to learn, as they have been learning over the last few days, that members of the cabinet who are saying to the public there’s no alternative but for you to pay more tax are themselves making use of schemes to reduce their own taxation. I think that’s why people feel this is an essentially a matter of real fairness.

  • He challenged Boris Johnson to confirm that no other cabinet ministers have been using non-dom arrangements to reduce their tax. He said:

We know that the chancellor’s family appear to have used a scheme to reduce their tax. We now know that the former chancellor used a scheme to reduce his tax …

What I want from the prime minister is an assurance, an assurance as to whether other members of the cabinet have been using these schemes to reduce their tax. And I think on behalf of everybody who is now paying more tax we are entitled to answer to that question.

Asked what schemes to reduce tax were unacceptable, Starmer replied:

I don’t think this is complicated. I don’t know many people who use a non-dom scheme to increase their tax. It’s a basic way of reducing the tax that you pay in this country. I don’t think there’s any confusion on behalf of the public in relation to this.

Starmer’s answer implies that he wants to keep the focus just on non-dom status rather than open up a wider debate about what constitutes tax avoidance.

  • Starmer said that he would expect all his cabinet ministers to pay their taxes in full. He said:

We would have an absolutely fair system and I would expect all members of my cabinet to pay their full taxes in this country. It’s a shame we can’t say the same about the prime minister.

Keir Starmer speaking to reporters at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland.
Keir Starmer speaking to reporters at the Salvation Army centre in Sunderland. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
13:29

As my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, Keir Starmer has said all cabinet ministers should declare whether they have ever used schemes like non-dom status to reduce their tax.

In Sunderland, Starmer says people have a right to know how senior politicians might be using ways to reduce their tax. He says there is a Labour review underway on the fairness and effectiveness of the tax system. (Not a catchy way of making hay out of this scandal) pic.twitter.com/cSmLuFCGDd

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 11, 2022

Starmer says PM must ask all cabinet ministers to declare whether they have or are using schemes to reduce their tax

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 11, 2022

Starmer says ordinary people understand that non doms do not use the status to pay more tax, they use it to reduce their tax burden pic.twitter.com/V346UrhLvT

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 11, 2022

I will post more from the Starmer comments shortly.

13:22

Summary of Downing Street lobby briefing

And here is a summary of the main lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

  • The No 10 spokesperson was unable to confirm that the inquiry into Rishi Sunak’s declarations of ministerial interests will cover his decision to retain his US green card as a minister and chancellor. (See 12.29pm.) Asked about the point of the inquiry, when the Cabinet Office said at the weekend that Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, was “completely satisfied with the chancellor’s propriety of arrangements”, the spokesperson implied that that statement covered Sunak’s declarations when he became a minister in 2018. The spokesperson also said Boris Johnson has full confidence in Sunak.
  • The spokesperson would not say whether or not Johnson knew that Rishi Sunak had a green card when be became chancellor. But she said it was not a requirement to disclose that to the PM. Asked if there might be other ministers with a green card, she said she would not speculate. Asked if he knew if any of his ministers had non-dom status, or had been non-doms in the past, she said ministers have to make relevant declarations.
  • The spokesperson said Johnson will be at Chequers this week having “a bit of a break” for a couple of days. He plans to “get some rest and spend some time with family”, she said. But he will continue to receive updates, particularly on Ukraine.
  • The spokesperson said that Johnson was in Kyiv for around five hours on Saturday. She said:

On arrival in Kyiv, the PM and President Zelensky met for an hour – this was a meeting just with the two of them. They then went on a 30 minute walk together to Independence Square.

As PA Media reports, the spokesperson said that, upon their return, they held a further full bilateral meeting over dinner. The pair had a starter of goats cheese salad and chicken soup, followed by a main of roast beef and cherry dumplings for dessert. Johnson was accompanied by one member of his private office and his security detail, the spokesperson said.

  • Neither Sunak nor his family are aware of any trusts they have naming Sunak as a beneficiary, No 10 indicated. But, according to the Independent, Sunak has been named as a beneficiary. No 10 has not issued an on the record statement denying this.
12:56

Why Labour thinks inquiry should cover why Sunak kept his US green card as chancellor

This is what Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, said in her letter to the PM yesterday calling for an inquiry into Rishi Sunak about why it should cover his decision to hold on to his US green card for so long. She said:

The chancellor’s spokesperson has now clarified that he possessed a US green card, meaning that he was by his own declaration a permanent resident of the United States of America. This raises a huge range of questions, issues and concerns, including whether he was either resident for tax purposes in the US and how he could have been following the laws and rules of both countries. Government ministers claimed Mr Sunak’s green card is a “hangover from his US days”. His spokesperson said he kept it for “travel reasons”. However we know Mr Sunak submitted annual US tax returns to maintain it for a number of years after becoming an MP.

In any event, this clearly presents serious conflicts of interest with his duties as chancellor. If it was not declared, that must surely be in itself a significant breach of the ministerial code. If it was declared, that raises suggests successive prime ministers permitted a minister, and later chancellor of the exchequer, to remain a permanent resident of a foreign country.

It is a requirement for conditional permanent residency of the US that the chancellor would have been “considered a US tax resident for US income tax purposes”. This raises serious questions about whether the chancellor was a resident overseas for tax purposes even as he determined the policy in the UK. It also appears that the chancellor must have either repeatedly sought legal permission for extended but supposedly temporary periods of residence in the UK, or flagrantly broken the relevant rules of an allied democracy.

It is hard to see how in any event this can be compatible with the principles underlying the ministerial code, such as honesty.

Moreover, the Guardian reported that when Mr Sunak was appointed chief secretary to the Treasury in 2019 he waived his salary for five months – a total of £34,000. There are serious questions about whether Rishi Sunak waived his salary as a minister in 2020 in order to avoid paying US tax. Indeed, by waiving his salary, Mr Sunak thereby earned just under the maximum threshold that US green card holders can earn overseas and avoid paying US income tax, under the foreign earned income exclusion scheme.

The full text of the Rayner letter raises several other issues that should be covered by the inquiry and runs to five pages.

Angela Rayner: ‘In any event, this clearly presents serious conflicts of interest with [Sunak’s] duties as chancellor.’
Angela Rayner: ‘In any event, this clearly presents serious conflicts of interest with [Sunak’s] duties as chancellor.’ Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

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