The furore surrounding Tory billionaire benefactor and deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft ratcheted up another notch this week after the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, George Young, told BBC Newsnight the peer is indeed a non-domicile for tax purposes.
As already highlighted on this blog, Michael Ashcroft has funnelled millions of pounds to the Tories through the corporate vehicle Bearwood Corporate Services. This money is helping bankroll the party’s election campaign in marginal constituencies up and down the land.
Under UK law political parties can only accept donations from those registered to vote in this country or from companies “carrying on business” here. Bearwood stands accused of operating as a front to circumvent this rule.
Moreover, the Guardian alleges Ashcroft has not only failed to declare all his business interests to parliamentary authorities, he has also failed to fulfil the terms under which he received a peerage in 2000.
The Electoral Commission began investigating Ashcroft/Bearwood in October 2008, but it has yet to conclude its inquiry. Indeed, the 16 month investigation is the longest in the Commission’s history.
What’s the position of Conservative leader David Cameron on all this?
Last December Cameron said:
“The tax status of Lord Ashcroft is a matter between him and the Inland Revenue.”
This week, however, he performed a spectacular volte-face at the University of East London by saying:
“For years all parties have taken the same view that someone’s tax status is a matter between them and the Inland Revenue.
“That needs to change … anyone who wants to sit in the House of Lords or House of Commons has to be, or has to be treated as, a full resident UK taxpayer.”
In the light of senior Tories’ “evasion” and “obfuscation” and (if one is to believe George Young…) Ashcroft’s status as a non-domicile, this seems a tad disingenuous…
And the other parties?
Commenting on George Young’s “non-dom” Ashcroft disclosure, Labour MP Denis MacShane said:
“David Cameron talks about a new politics but has refused to give any answers on the tax status of his largest donor.”
And respected Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Matthew Oakeshott said:
“Why is it only now, 10 years after William Hague promised Lord Ashcroft would come onshore to get a peerage, that this admission is now being dragged out of the Conservatives like a wisdom tooth?
“This makes a mockery of David Cameron’s claim to be a reformer in favour of cleaning up the political system.”
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