Boris Johnson voiced ‘full confidence’ in Rishi Sunak today as he signed off a sleaze probe into the Chancellor’s tax affairs.
The PM has agreed that independent adviser Lord Geidt will look at whether the Chancellor properly declared financial interests.
Mr Sunak had asked for the peer – who previously cleared Mr Johnson over ‘Wallpapergate’ – to get involved saying his ‘overriding concern’ is to demonstrate he had behaved correctly.
A Downing Street spokeswoman insisted today that the premier still backs his Chancellor, but dodged giving a timetable for when the probe might be complete.
‘I’m not aware of whether Lord Geidt himself has begun his work,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘But I can confirm that the Prime Minister has agreed to the request from the Chancellor for Lord Geidt to undertake this work.’
Mr Sunak tried to show he is getting on with the job today by visiting the Treasury’s campus in Darlington.
But Tories have warned that his ambitions of becoming PM have been ‘scuppered’ by the revelations about his billionaire heiress wife Akshata Murty having non-dom status, and that he held a US green card while running the Treasury.
There has also been criticism that the Chancellor’s response of launching an aggressive leak inquiry was ‘petulant and naive’.
No10 has batted away calls for Mr Sunak to publish his tax returns, or for public disclosures about the tax status of other ministers – although they are meant to declare arrangements to senior civil servants.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted over the weekend that he was a non-dom while working as a banker, before entering politics.
After Labour accused Mr Sunak of breaking the ministerial code, he released the text of a letter to Mr Johnson requesting Lord Geidt looks at the declarations and whether rules were followed.
Lord Geidt previously cleared Mr Johnson of wrongdoing over the £112,000 refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
Some Conservatives believe that Mr Sunak might opt to walk away from politics rather than accept scrutiny of his family, but friends told the Daily Mail he was determined to carry on.
‘Clearly it’s been very damaging to him and the family are finding the scrutiny difficult,’ a friend said.
Letft, Rishi Sunak’s letter to the PM. Right, Mr Sunak and Akshata Murthy pictured together at the British Asian Trust at British Museum earlier this year
In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice repeatedly dodged giving any view of whether the tax arrangements were acceptable
Crisis-hit Rishi Sunak (pictured with wife Akshata) has ordered a hunt for the ‘Red Throat’ leaker of his wife’s tax status as he moved his family out of his grace and favour Downing Street residence
An Opinium poll this weekend shows that approval for Mr Sunak now stands at just 28 per cent, while disapproval is 43 per cent
Removal vans arriving at the rear of Downing Street before heading to the front entrance to unload items from 11 Downing Street
The sense of chaos was enhanced further yesterday as removal vans were pictured outside No11. The Sunaks are moving to their luxury West London home, said to be a long-planned step as their elder daughter is heading to boarding school
Vans were seen taking some of the Sunaks’ possessions from Downing Street yesterday
Labour confusion over whether it would abolish non-dom status
Labour is still mired in confusion over whether it would abolish non-dom status.
The party vowed to scrap the centuries-old provision – intended to attract wealthy people to the UK – under Jeremy Corbyn.
After the row over Rishi Sunak’s wife erupted last week, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband suggested that the last Labour government should have done away with non-doms.
But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper repeatedly dodged when pressed on the policy in interviews this morning.
She told Sky News that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves ‘has a review under way’.
‘We have previously proposed reforms in exactly this area,’ she said.
‘But suggestions that he’s going to walk away are wide of the mark. If there was something worse to come out it would be unsustainable, but he doesn’t think there is.’
There was speculation about the Chancellor’s future at the weekend after removal vans were pictured being loaded with furniture from his Downing Street flat.
An aide said Mr Sunak’s wife and their daughters were temporarily relocating to their west London home in a ‘pre-planned’ move to leave them closer to their eldest daughter’s school.
The Chancellor is expected to continue to ‘live above the shop’ on days when he is working late.
In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice repeatedly dodged giving any view of whether the tax arrangements were acceptable.
He stressed that he personally was not interested in non-dom status or a US green card.
Mr Eustice said the Chancellor was ‘very clear that he’s been very candid about his own arrangements at every stage’.
Asked about Rishi Sunak referring himself to Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘Rishi Sunak and his wife have spoken for themselves on this. I’m not his accountant, I’m not responsible obviously for his tax affairs or those indeed of his wife.
‘She gave a statement over the weekend, she’s now made clear that although she hasn’t done anything wrong, she’s a citizen of India and grew up and was born in India, has some income from that, nevertheless she’s changing her tax arrangements so that she would pay the tax on that income here in the UK.
‘Rishi himself, there’s been some speculation around that, he’s written to the Prime Minister and asked the adviser on ministerial (standards) to look at this case. He’s 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.’
Mr Eustice also warned that against creating a culture where people were ‘too rich’ to be a Chancellor or PM.
‘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,’ he told the BBC.
He added: ‘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.’
The investigation comes after Mr Sunak ordered an ‘aggressive’ leak inquiry to identify the person responsible for releasing details of his wife’s financial affairs.
Senior officials will be grilled over the damaging leak to the Independent last week.
Allies of the Chancellor believe the information, to which few people were privy, was leaked by a Labour-supporting Whitehall mole.
‘There’s going to be a full Cabinet Office and HM Treasury investigation… Divulging the tax status of a private individual is a criminal offence,’ a source said.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse yesterday acknowledged that the timing of the news about Ms Murty’s non-dom status was ‘not ideal’ in a week when the Chancellor’s controversial rise in national insurance was introduced for millions of working people and businesses.
Rishi Sunak’s political opponents yesterday called on the White House to investigate why the Chancellor possessed a US green card until last October
Tax experts said the personal loans to Akshata Murty’s venture capital firm, Catamaran Ventures UK, fall into a ‘grey area’ of the rules
Akshata Murthy, whose father is one of India ‘s richest men, faced scrutiny after it emerged she has kept non-dom status despite living in 11 Downing Street with Rishi Sunak and their children. They are pictured together last month
Mr Malthouse told the BBC the Chancellor had been a ‘remarkable force for good’, but that Mr Sunak’s political future was of ‘secondary importance’ to what happened to the economy.
The Chancellor, a former hedge fund manager, was yesterday urged to reveal details of his own financial investments to remove suspicion of a conflict of interest.
He is one of several ministers to have put his investments in a so-called blind trust, which is managed by someone else on his behalf while he remains in government.
But critics say the system is unsatisfactory because ministers still have a good idea what investments they hold and could take decisions to benefit them.
Former minister David Davis suggested investments should be listed ‘in the public domain’.
Mr Sunak also faces claims made by the Independent that his name appears as a beneficiary of tax haven trusts set up in the British Virgin isles and the Cayman Islands.
The newspaper claimed to have seen documents ‘linked to Ms Murty, her family and companies linked to their businesses… In a number of them, Mr Sunak was listed as a beneficiary.’
A Treasury source said that neither Mr Sunak, his wife nor her family were aware of any trusts naming him as a beneficiary.
Mr Sunak is also facing questions about his decision to keep his US green card until October last year – more than 18 months after becoming Chancellor.
The decision meant he had to file American tax returns and was classed as a ‘permanent resident’ of the US, where he worked for a decade before entering politics.
The White House was challenged over the weekend about how the Chancellor had been allowed to maintain a status that is not available to people ’employed by a foreign government’.
Indian-born Ms Murty has a £713million stake in the Bangalore-based IT giant Infosys, which was founded by her father.
Last week it emerged she applied to pay tax on a ‘remittance basis’, which allows non-doms to avoid UK tax on foreign earnings in return for a £30,000 annual fee.
On Friday Ms Murty announced she would start paying UK tax on her global earnings, although she will remain a non-dom.
But she faced fresh scrutiny yesterday after the Mail on Sunday revealed she has given more than £4million in interest-free loans to her British venture capital firm Catamaran Ventures UK.
A spokesman for Ms Murty said she had ‘followed the letter of the law’.
This is the extraordinary web of homes and businesses with links to Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata, a heiress to a billion dollar fortune
Ms Murty is the daughter of billionaire NR Narayana Murthy. She are Rishi Sunak are pictured with her father and mother Sudha Murthy in Bangalore at their wedding reception in 2009