- 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).
- Jeremy Corbyn will not have the Labour whip restored while he continues to associate with the Stop the War coalition, Starmer has suggested, saying it was “very clear” those who wanted to be Labour MPs had to be supporters of Nato and reject “false equivalence” between Nato and Russian aggression.
- Ali Harbi Ali, 26, has been convicted at the Old Bailey of the terrorist assassination of the Conservative MP Sir David Amess.
- The Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. This could trigger what would be an important byelection in Khan’s constituency, Wakefield. These are from the politics professor Rob Ford.
- Ministers should reconsider England’s “living with Covid” plans, health leaders have said, while accusing the government of ignoring the ongoing threat for ideological reasons.
That’s it from me for today. For the latest from Ukraine, you can read our Ukraine live blog:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I will post more from the Starmer comments shortly.
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.
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.
No 10 unable to confirm inquiry into Sunak's declarations of interest will cover why he kept US green card
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the No 10 spokesperson confirmed that Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, would be conducting an inquiry into Rishi Sunak’s declarations of interest. Sunak requested one last night – but Geidt is only allowed to launch an inquiry with the permission of the PM, which has now been given.
But the spokesperson was unable to confirm that the inquiry would cover Sunak’s decision to retain his US green card after he became a minister, and even while he was chancellor. It is reported that he only gave it up last October.
The spokesperson said the prime minister “has agreed to the request from the chancellor for Lord Geidt to undertake this work”. Asked if the inquiry would consider the green card issue, which was not explicitly mentioned as a topic it should examine in the letter Sunak released last night, the spokesperson said she thought the inquiry would just cover what Sunak suggested it should cover (his declarations of interest) but that Geidt would say more in due course.
I will post more from the briefing shortly.
Patel criticised by Sabina Nessa's sister over tweet about sentencing of killer
Last week, after Koci Selamaj was sentenced to life in jail for the murder of the primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, Priti Patel, the home secretary, posted a message on Twitter saying she hoped this would bring some small comfort to Nessa’s family.
In an interview with the Today programme this morning Jebina Yasmin Islam, Nessa’s sister, criticised Patel for her tweets. Claiming that there had been a “lack of support” for the family from government, she said:
I’ve had support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich [and] MP Clive Efford, who’s been amazing ... Higher up people have been useless, I would say. They’ve not said nothing. Priti Patel has done a tweet on Friday and I was not happy about it, because all of a sudden she’s using my sister’s name for publicity reasons. And, to be honest, she has no right.
Islam claimed the family had not received any correspondence from Patel about Nessa’s murder. But Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, had sent a letter, she said.
As Sami Quadri reports for the Evening Standard, Islam also claimed that if the family had been white, they would have been treated more favourably, and Nessa’s murder would have received more publicity.
On his LBC show Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, has said it was right for Boris Johnson to visit Kyiv on Saturday to show support for Ukraine. It was an important visit, he said. And he said that some of the people criticising Johnson for the trip on social media (on the grounds that it was a stunt, and that Johnson was grandstanding) were the same people who were praising Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, when she visited the city the day before.
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, is hosting the morning programme on LBC today, standing in for James O’Brien, who is on holiday. Even though his shadow cabinet colleague Steve Reed used his morning interviews this morning to highlight Labour claims that Rishi Sunak may have broken the ministerial code (see 9.34am), Streeting used his opening spiel to argue that this aspect of Sunak’s conduct wasn’t the real problem. He said:
I think the big question facing the chancellor isn’t so much whether what he’s done, or what his wife’s done, is within the rules or whether it’s within the law, because I don’t think that’s really being disputed. It’s not about whether it’s legal. It’s about whether or not it’s right.
Streeting said what was objectionable was that Sunak and his family were able to organise their tax affairs so as to minimise their liabilities in a way other people cannot. He explained:
The thing that sticks in my throat is we’ve had the chancellor and the health secretary both lecturing struggling taxpayers about their duty - in the case of Sajid Javid I think he said it was their moral duty - to pay higher taxes in order to fund public services like the NHS. And yet we’ve now got the chancellor and the health secretary managing their tax affairs in a way that means they will end up paying less tax in a way that most people in this country are simply unable to do.
And the luxury of being able to choose how much tax you pay, where you pay that tax, when you pay that tax, is not one that is enjoyed by most people in this country, which is why I think it is one rule for them and another rule for every one else.
To be fair, it was Rishi Sunak’s wife who was using non-dom status to minimise her tax bills, not Sunak himself. And Sajid Javid has admitted being a non-dom in the past, but he gave that up before he became an MP.
Rishi Sunak visited the Treasury’s base in Darlington this morning in a bid to show he is getting on with the job of being chancellor despite the storm around his family’s financial arrangements, PA Media reports.
The Ministry of Defence has said it fears Russia may use white phosphorus (WP) munitions in the bombardment of the besieged Ukrainian port Mariupol. It has issued the warning in its latest regular intelligence update on the war.
In his interviews this morning George Eustice was also asked about the Homes for Ukraine scheme for refugees, and why by the end of last week only about 1,200 people granted visas under this scheme had arrived in the UK. When it was put to him on LBC that this was a shambles, he would not accept that. He said:
I don’t think it’s a shambles, but Priti Patel herself is obviously on the case with this. She’s been very clear that she will make further changes should they be needed. They’ve already made some changes - removing the need, for instance, for Ukrainian passport holders to actually attend any kind of interview in person to allow them to come straight through. So some changes and improvements have been made. I’m sure that Priti Patel will be looking at this closely and making other changes should that be required to unblock any bottlenecks that might be in the system.
UK growth slowed more than expected in February amid a slump in car manufacturing, despite a sharp recovery in overseas holiday bookings after the easing of Covid restrictions, my colleague Richard Partington reports.
Eustice dismisses claim Sunak too wealthy to be chancellor or PM
George Eustice, the environment secretary, was on “defend the government” duty on the airwaves this morning and, although he was meant to be talking about government plans to stop councils charging people for dumping DIY waste in tips (in the hope this will reduce fly-tipping), he spent much of his time talking about Rishi Sunak’s family finances. Here are the main points he made.
- Eustice claimed that Sunak had been “very candid” about his affairs. Asked about claims that Sunak had not declared relevant interests, Eustice said:
[Sunak is] very clear that he’s declared everything that should have been declared at the right time and there is a process here that you have as a minister. You declare all your interests to the permanent secretary in your department, and the Cabinet Office then decide which bits should be made public, which bits they should be aware of, there’s a duty of candour in both directions and Rishi’s very clear that he’s been very candid about his own arrangements at every stage.
- Eustice sidestepped a question about whether he understood the anger that the revelation about the chancellor’s wife being a non-dom had caused. Asked by Sky’s Kay Burley if he understood why people were unhappy about this, Eustice suggested Sunak should be judged on his record, and he stressed that Sunak has paid all his taxes.
- Eustice failed to explain why Sunak had kept his US green card for so long. He said the green card was “a hangover” from the time when Sunak was working in the US. But Eustice could not explain why Sunak still had it when he became chancellor.
- Eustice said he did not think Sunak was too wealthy to be chancellor or prime minister. When this suggestion was put to him, he replied:
I don’t think it’s right that we should have a rule that says you’re too wealthy to be able to do a role - what matters is the knowledge, the technical expertise that you have ...
You can’t walk a mile in everyone’s shoes, all of us have different perspectives, different experiences in life and for any MP, let alone minister, the single most important thing is an ability to empathise (with) people who might have had experiences and challenges in their life, that you’ve personally not experienced.
Sunak’s call for inquiry into his own conduct fails to quell claims he may have broken ministerial code
Good morning. Last night there were calls for an inquiry into Rishi Sunak’s financial interests - from the chancellor himself. This amounts to voluntarily handing yourself in to the regulatory authorities, and it is a tactic often used by MPs facing misconduct allegations when they a) want to regain control of the narrative, and b) are reasonably confident that they will be cleared.
On the latter point, Sunak does not seem to have any doubts. He has asked for an inquiry by Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, into the declarations of interest he has made as a minister and he says he is “confident that such a review of my declarations will find all relevant information was appropriately declared”.
Sunak made his move in response to a letter from Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, calling for an inquiry into Sunak’s alleged failure to declare relevant financial interests, as well as other matters, including his possession of a US green card until quite recently. But Sunak’s statement has failed to silence Labour, and this morning Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, renewed his claim that Sunak may have broken the ministerial code. Asked if he thought this was possible, Reed told the Today programme:
Absolutely. But it’s not an isolated incident, there are other failures here as well. He also failed to declare his wife’s £690-million share-hold in Infosys, an IT company based in India, which has had, according to what we’ve been able to find out, 15 different one-to-one meetings with senior ministers, including the prime minister, and has been awarded multimillion-pound government contracts.
Now, if the chancellor’s household is benefiting from contracts of that kind that should have been something that he declared in the register of interest, but he didn’t.
There’s a whole list of areas where the chancellor appears to have failed to declare things he should have declared.
George Eustice, the environment secretary, was defending Sunak in his morning interview round. I will post highlights from his interviews shortly.
Parliament is not sitting, and the diary for today is relatively empty. But we have a Downing Street lobby briefing at 11.30am, and Keir Starmer is campaigning in the north-east. And in Bournemouth the National Education Union’s conference is taking place.
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