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Sunak refers himself to ministerial watchdog in row over wife’s tax status

Chancellor Rishi Sunak with his wife Akshata Murty (Ian West/PA)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak with his wife Akshata Murty (Ian West/PA)

Beleaguered Chancellor Rishi Sunak has referred himself to Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests as he sought to fend off questions over his family’s financial affairs.

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

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

The move came after Labour warned that disclosures that his wife was non domiciled in the UK for tax purposes and that he still had a US green card when he became Chancellor raised potential conflicts of interest.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to the Prime Minister and Lord Geidt with a series of detailed questions about his family’s affairs which she said needed answering.

“A fish rots from the head. It is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to bring this debacle to a close by ensuring that standards are upheld across his Cabinet,” she said.

Mr Sunak’s latest attempt to defuse the political storm that has engulfed him came after 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.

Lord Geidt
Mr Sunak has requested that Lord Geidt (above) should review his ministerial declarations of interest (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In his letter requesting a review, Mr Sunak said: “My overriding concern is that the public retain confidence in the answers that are given and I believe the best way of achieving this is to ensure those answers are entirely independent, without bias or favour,” he said.

“I am confident that such a review of my declarations will find all relevant information was appropriately declared.

“I have throughout my ministerial career followed the advice of officials regarding matters or propriety and disclosure and will continue to do so.”

Earlier however, it emerged that he had ordered a full-scale investigation by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury into who leaked details of his wife’s tax status to the media.

Angela Rayner
Angela Rayner has called for ‘full transparency’ over the Sunak family’s overseas earnings (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

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.

Labour accused Mr Sunak of hypocrisy, saying his family was saving tens of millions of pounds as a result of the arrangement while he was putting up taxes for millions of others.

In her letter, Ms Rayner questioned whether Mr Sunak had ever benefited from the use of tax havens – particularly when he ran hedge funds before he was an MP – and whether he had received any updates on his blind trust since becoming Chancellor.

She also questioned whether he had made a legal promise to the US when he received his green card that it was his permanent residence, and, if so, whether he was legally a permanent US resident when he entered Parliament and became a minister.

And she sought an assurance that the Chancellor and his family would provide “full transparency” on all their overseas income and where they pay tax on it.

“The chaos caused by the Conservatives over the last week must be brought to an end,” she said.

“When it comes to the Tories hiking up taxes on working people, it seems it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”

The row has erupted at a time when Mr Sunak was already under pressure amid criticism that his Spring Statement last month did little to help low income families struggling with the spiralling cost of living.

The fallout reportedly led to renewed tensions with the Prime Minister and his advisers.

At a joint press conference on Friday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr Johnson denied that No 10 was responsible for hostile briefing in the media against Mr Sunak, insisting he was doing an “outstanding job”.

However the disclosures are widely thought to have severely dented his hopes of succeeding Mr Johnson as Prime Minister, with Tory MPs questioning his political judgment.

While there was nothing illegal about Ms Murty’s non-dom status, many MPs believe he was naive to think that it would not come out eventually in a way that was politically damaging.