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Johnson has full confidence in Sunak as probe into Chancellor’s finances begins

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street as he heads to the House of Commons, London, to deliver his Spring Statement. Picture date: Wednesday March 23, 2022.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street as he heads to the House of Commons, London, to deliver his Spring Statement. Picture date: Wednesday March 23, 2022.

Boris Johnson continues to support Rishi Sunak, Downing Street said, as an investigation was launched into the Chancellor’s ministerial interests.

The Prime Minister agreed to a request from the Chancellor to launch the investigation, which comes after intense pressure on Mr Sunak over his family’s financial interests.

Asked if Mr Johnson continues to have full confidence in the Chancellor, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “He does.”

She also confirmed Mr Johnson had accepted Mr Sunak’s request for an investigation by Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests.

Asked if Lord Geidt had begun his investigation into the Chancellor, the spokeswoman said: “I’m not aware of whether Lord Geidt himself has begun his work.

Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murthy
Mr Sunak alongside his wife Akshata Murthy (Ian West/PA)

“But I can confirm that the Prime Minister has agreed to the request from the Chancellor for Lord Geidt to undertake this work.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Sunak asked for Lord Geidt to review all his declarations of interest since he became a minister in 2018 to ensure they had been properly stated.

He said he was confident he had acted appropriately at all times, but his “overriding concern” was that the public should have confidence in the answers.

Mr Sunak visited Darlington on Monday in an attempt to show he was getting on with the job of being Chancellor, naming the final two sites in the running for the Treasury’s outpost in the town.

Cabinet colleague George Eustice said Mr Sunak was the Chancellor “at the moment” and had paid all relevant UK taxes.

Mr Sunak’s political career is at risk of being derailed by the row over his wife’s non-domiciled status and his own former holding of a US green card.

The Chancellor’s decision to request an investigation by Lord Geidt was the latest attempt to defuse the political storm that has engulfed him.

An announcement on Friday by his wife, Akshata Murty, that she would pay UK taxes on all her worldwide income failed to stem the criticism.

Environment Secretary Mr Eustice faced questions from broadcasters on Monday about the row.

George Eustice
George Eustice rejected suggestions that Mr Sunak was ‘too rich’ to be the Chancellor (James Manning/PA)

Mr Sunak had been “very clear that he’s been very candid about his own arrangements at every stage”, Mr Eustice told Sky News.

The Cabinet minister also rejected suggestions that Mr Sunak was “too rich” to be a chancellor or potential prime minister.

But Labour continued to press for answers on the Chancellor’s arrangements and his wife’s business interests.

It has been estimated that her non-dom status could have saved her £20 million in taxes on dividends from her shares in Infosys, an Indian IT company founded by her father.

Public records show Infosys has received more than £50 million in UK public sector contracts since 2015 – with Labour arguing Mr Sunak should have registered an interest in the firm, because of his wife’s involvement.

Speaking to reporters in Sunderland on Monday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the issues around the Chancellor’s family tax affairs were a “matter of real fairness”.

“I don’t have any non-doms in the shadow cabinet because I understand the fairness of the issue,” he said.

He called for the Prime Minister to provide an assurance over whether “other members of the Cabinet have been using these schemes to reduce their tax”.

“I think on behalf of everybody who is now paying more tax we are entitled to an answer to that question,” he said.

Mr Sunak has ordered a full-scale investigation by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury into who leaked details of his wife’s tax status to the Independent, which triggered the row.

Speculation at Westminster has suggested a Labour-sympathising civil servant or rivals in No 10 could have been behind the leaking of the confidential information.

Tensions between No 10 and the Chancellor have increased following a spring statement which was criticised for not doing enough to help address the cost-of-living crisis.

The Chancellor was also accused of resisting measures in the energy security strategy which could have increased public spending, leading to repeated delays in the plan which finally emerged last week.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, suggested a political attack was more likely than a leak from a disgruntled official.

“Civil servants have long-established whistleblowing procedures if they have concerns about impropriety, which makes it unlikely that they would want to go to the press on Rishi Sunak’s tax affairs,” he said.

The “vast majority of leaks come from the political world, be that special advisers, ministers or those around them”, he added, with the key question being: “Who has something to gain from this leak regarding Rishi Sunak’s tax affairs?”

The Prime Minister was forced to deny that No 10 was responsible for hostile briefing against Mr Sunak when he appeared at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday.