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Monday, January 30, 2023

PMQs: Westminster Tories dubbed ‘parcel of rogues’ amid Zahawi tax row

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has branded the UK Government a “parcel of rogues” as the scandal around Nadhim Zahawi’s tax dodging grows.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced numerous questions on the Tory party chairman’s finances during this week’s PMQs in the House of Commons.

Labour leader Keir Starmer suggested the job of PM was “too big” for Sunak and called him “hopelessly weak” for failing to sack Zahawi when the scandal emerged. Instead, the PM has instructed an independent adviser to investigate whether or not the former Chancellor broke ministerial rules.

READ MORE: De facto referendum would see Scots vote for independence, poll finds

The row centres on a tax bill over the sale of shares in YouGov, the polling firm Zahawi founded. The shares, worth an estimated £27 million, were held by Balshore Investments, a company registered offshore in Gibraltar and linked to Zahawi’s family.

But it isn’t the only financial scandal dogging the Tories this week, as criticism was levelled at BBC Chairman Richard Sharp over allegations he had helped former PM Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan. Sharp has said he will not quit, and has called for the BBC board to review his appointment.

Flynn raised this with the PM, with an added dig at Sunak over previous revelations that his wife Akshata Murky held non-dom status while he was Chancellor, a position which allowed her to pay less tax.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Flynn said: “May I ask the Prime Minister what advice would he have for individuals seeking to protect their personal finances?

“Should they seek out a future chair of the BBC to help secure an £800,000 pound loan?

“Should they set up a trust in Gibraltar and hope that HMRC simply don’t notice, or should they do as others have done and simply apply for non-dom status?”

After groans from the Tory benches, Sunak replied: “I’m proud of the record of this government in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, just this winter helping all families £900 with their energy bills, raising the national living wage to record levels, and ensuring that our pensioners get the support they need.

“That’s what this government is doing to ensure financial security in this country.”

Flynn said he wasn’t sure what question the PM thought he asked “but that certainly was not it”.

READ MORE: What the polls tell us about de facto referendum strategy

The SNP group leader added: “Let’s be clear about this. This is now a matter of the Prime Minister’s own integrity and accountability.

“When there were questions about the Home Secretary, concerns about her role in relation to national security, he chose to back her.

“Now the chair of the Tory party he’s choosing to back him, despite a £5 million pound penalty from HMRC.

“And of course he’s seeking to protect the former prime minister, despite his cosy financial relationship with the Chair of the BBC. Is it little wonder that people in Scotland may well just consider the Tory party to be a parcel of rogues?”

Flynn’s reference is drawn from a Robert Burns poem titled Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation, which also contains the phrase “bought and sold for English gold”.

The National: Sunak's government was dubbed a 'parcel of rogues' by the SNP
Sunak’s government was dubbed a ‘parcel of rogues’ by the SNP (Image: PA)

The PM again dodged the question, responding: “What I’m standing up for is proper due process. That’s why we have an independent adviser. It’s right that the independent adviser conducts his investigation.

“That’s how we will ensure accountability and that’s why I will deliver.”

Earlier, Starmer criticised Sunak for not sacking Zahawi, and claimed the Prime Minister is “overwhelmed at every turn”.

Starmer asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree that any politician who seeks to avoid the taxes they owe in this country is not fit to be in charge of taxpayer money?”

READ MORE: SNP use Commons ‘prayer’ tactic in bid to STOP Section 35 order

Sunak said the issues linked to Zahawi occurred before he became Prime Minister and said “more information has come forward” since he told MPs the matter had been addressed in full. He claimed the tax issues were not raised during the process to appoint Zahawi as minister without portfolio in the UK Cabinet.

Sunak added: “Of course the politically expedient thing to do would be for me to have said this matter must be resolved by Wednesday at noon, but I believe in proper due process.”

When Starmer asked if the job of PM was “just too big” for Sunak, the PM responded by accusing the Labour leader of having “no principles”.

Additionally, SNP MP Martyn Day, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, cited a UK in a changing Europe report at the end of 2022, which said that the cost of living had increased and 38% of people said that their finances were negatively impacted by not being a member of the EU.

He asked the PM if he agreed Brexit has “only served to exacerbate the cost of living and economic challenges facing these islands”.

Sunak replies that Russia’s war on Ukraine and impact on energy supplies “has nothing to do with Brexit”, before citing government support for energy bills.



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