Tuesday, March 09, 2010

David Cameron comes out fighting over Ashcroft.

David Cameron has started his fightback over the Lord Ashcroft affair, but it's blatant that he still doesn't get what this entire fiasco is actually about.

David Cameron claimed tonight that he had succeeded in diluting the Conservatives' reliance on money from their controversial deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, as the party confirmed the billionaire peer would not serve in a Tory government after the election.

In a BBC interview, Cameron tried to draw a line under the issue that has dogged his party for more than a week, saying Ashcroft's donations to the Conservatives were "entirely legal" and insisting he "has answered the questions about where he pays his tax".

Cameron rejected the view that he was too weak to take on Ashcroft. "I would put it to you that it's now time for the BBC to go after the Labour party and ask questions about their donors and where they pay tax. We have answered those questions some time before the general election and I'm very pleased we've done so."
The point which Cameron is almost deliberately missing is that William Hague gave his word as leader of the Tories, and he promised that Ashcroft would end his tax exile status and that the Treasury would benefit by "tens of millions" each year and that Ashcroft thought this "worthwhile".

Ashcroft has since turned Hague into a liar. He has spent the last decade stubbornly refusing to answer questions on the subject and, if Hague and Cameron are to be believed, leading them to believe that he had satisfied the promises which Hague made on his behalf, whilst all the time knowing that he had not.

Cameron continues to insist that this is about whether or not his donations were legal, or whether Labour also accept donations from non-doms, which is missing the point of this entirely. This is about Ashcroft allowing the Tory leader to make promises on his behalf and then refusing to keep those promises.

Although there are many questions tabled in the Commons asking how Ashcroft's extraordinary tax status came about.

A series of parliamentary questions are due for answer by the Treasury this week about the circumstances in which Ashcroft was granted his tax concession in 2000, believed to have saved him tens of millions of pounds.

One, tabled by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly, asks under what circumstances a person born in the UK, whose parents were UK citizens, and who is a "long-term resident" of the UK, can qualify to be classified as a UK non-dom. Another asks what requirements Belize passport-holders must satisfy to be allowed to claim UK non-dom status.

Ministers normally avoid giving information about individuals' tax affairs, but the minister in charge of tax, Stephen Timms, may find it hard to avoid answering one pointed parliamentary question due to appear on the order paper: "To ask … how many people holding Belize passports are a) classified as non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes and b) on what date each was granted such status?"

The unanswered question behind the political row about Ashcroft is what information his accountants gave the revenue to persuade it of the unlikely thesis that he had turned himself into a foreigner.

On the face of it, Ashcroft did not fit the criteria set out in revenue guidelines newly drafted in 1999. These said that a person of British origins could escape his "UK domicile" only if: "You leave your country of domicile and settle in another country." Before allowing a Briton to renounce his domicile, the Revenue said it also needed: "strong evidence you intend to live there permanently or indefinitely".

I bet the number of Belize passport holders for whom this arrangement has been made will be one: Ashcroft.

There will be many questions as to why this man was allowed this extraordinary tax status, but the larger question - and the one which David Cameron doesn't even seem to grasp - is why this man even sought such a tax status after the conservative leader of the day gave express promises that granting him a life peerage would mean that he would assume the tax responsibilities of a normal British resident.

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