Does Rishi Sunak have Something to Hide in his Tax Returns?
The Prime Minister has still not published his tax returns – months after originally promised – triggering questions about what they may contain, reports Adam Bienkov
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Does Rishi Sunak have something to hide in his tax returns? That’s the inevitable question now being asked following the Nadhim Zahawi scandal.
There are good reasons to ask it. Questions about Sunak’s personal finances were first raised last year after it emerged that his wife had registered as a ‘non-dom’, allowing her to reduce her tax bill in the UK.
Around the same time, it also emerged that Sunak had held a US Green Card requiring him to declare himself a permanent resident of the country.
While he was Chancellor in Boris Johnson’s Government, he was also reportedly listed as a beneficiary of a trust based in an offshore tax haven.
When questions about these matters were raised during last summer’s Conservative Party leadership contest, Sunak insisted that he would publish his own tax return, should he become Prime Minister. “That is the established precedent and I’d be very happy to follow the precedent”, he said.
Later, when he did become Prime Minister, Sunak suggested its publication would happen by Christmas.
However, the New Year came and went without any sign of a declaration.
Asked by Byline Times last month why his tax return hadn’t appeared, Sunak’s Press Secretary said that it would be published “in short order”.
However, weeks have passed since that statement without any sign of Sunak’s tax details emerging.
Asked again about his tax returns by Byline Times on Wednesday, Sunak’s Press Secretary instead suggested that the return would appear “in due course” but declined to say exactly when that would be.
“As you know, the deadline for self-assessment is actually yesterday,” she said. “So all of those products are being put together and they will be published in due course.”
While it is likely that some details of Sunak’s tax affairs will eventually appear, Downing Street is being oddly cagey about how much real information they will actually contain.
These questions are important. When former Prime Minister David Cameron published his own tax return, the details extended back six years. A similarly lengthy period would cover Sunak’s time as a holder of a US Green Card as well as his time as a beneficiary of a trust in an overseas tax haven.
However, Downing Street are refusing to promise that Sunak’s own return will cover that long a period or what actual details it will contain.
Asked by Byline Times on Wednesday to say how far the return will go back, his Press Secretary refused to do so, saying only that “I’m not going to comment on what the tax return is and isn’t going to include”. She also declined to comment on whether the return would only cover UK earnings or any income he may, or may not, have received offshore.
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Downing Street’s caginess on these questions was also in evidence last month when Sunak’s spokespeople repeatedly refused to say whether the Prime Minister had ever paid a penalty to HMRC. Asked over multiple days, they initially said it was a “private” matter, before eventually buckling and releasing a statement stating that he had in fact not paid a penalty.
The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, also stonewalled similar questions about his own dealings with HMRC, telling reporters last week he didn’t believe the public were “remotely interested” in his own tax affairs.
Of course, without seeing the details of Sunak and Hunt’s finances, it is impossible to know what they may, or may not, reveal. But as long as Downing Street continues to hesitate to simply get all of the details out into the open, questions over whether they have anything to hide will only continue.