Thursday, March 04, 2010

William Hague hid Lord Ashcroft's tax status for months.

The problems for the Tories over Lord Ashcroft's non-dom status don't appear to be going anywhere soon as each day seems to bring a fresh batch of questions and revelations.

Yesterday, William Hague revealed that he has known that Ashcroft had renegotiated the terms under which he took his place in the House of Lords "for a few months".

Lord Ashcroft admitted on Monday that he was a "non-dom" – only paying tax on his British income. After refusing to answer any questions about what he knew and when, Hague finally elaborated in an interview on Radio 4's The World Tonight. The former Conservative leader revealed he had only recently discovered the terms of the arrangement that allowed Ashcroft to remain a non-dom. He was asked whether the "first he had known" of the arrangement was when Ashcroft revealed it at the start of the week. Hague replied: "Well, I knew in advance of that."

Hague was pressed on exactly when he had found out. He said: "Over the last few months I knew about that; and of course I was keen to support him then in making his position public."

Hague made assurances to Tony Blair, stating that giving Ashcroft a life peerage would ensure that Ashcroft paid "tens of millions" to the British treasury in taxation and that Ashcroft thought this "worthwhile". Indeed, Ashcroft wrote to Hague, giving him this assurance:
I hereby give you my clear and unequivocal assurance that I have decided to take up permanent residence in the UK again before the end of this calendar year.
Ashcroft knew what Hague imagined that this term meant and yet he renegotiated with someone to avoid the tax implications which Hague had expressly promised.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said last night: "Lord Ashcroft has failed to come clean with the leaders of the Conservative party, and the leaders of the Conservative party have failed to come clean over the last few months with the rest of the country."

"These are promises made in respect of a peerage that was given. And now tax has not been paid, and instead it has been given to the Conservative party for the general election fund."

Labour's general election co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, added: "Lord Ashcroft's position is now completely untenable. David Cameron must now act and fire him. He surely cannot tolerate a position where the most senior member of his shadow cabinet has been kept in the dark for so long by his most senior funder and deputy chairman."

Cameron, of course, cannot fire Ashcroft; after all he appears to be shit scared of him. But we are now left with a man who promised - through Hague - to pay "tens of millions" to the UK treasury in taxes in order to facilitate a life peerage, instead using this foreign money - on which he has paid no UK taxation - in an attempt to influence a British election.

It is utterly scandalous. And even some Tories appear to see the problem which seems to be eluding David Cameron:

Barry Legg, a former Tory MP and chief executive under Iain Duncan Smith, said the Ashcroft affair had damaged the party. "It is damaging you have somebody contribute so much money to the Conservative party who basically doesn't want to pay taxes in this country," he said. "It questions the commitment of that donor to the country. It looks as if those people in a position to ask those questions have decided for whatever reason not to press the matter. It probably reflects poor judgment on the part of people that are in charge of the party."

Tensions among senior Tories also surfaced privately. One Cameron ally said: "We should have confronted Michael Ashcroft. But [Cameron] has been saying everything is OK … that was the assurance given to Hague. David Cameron has not had time to confront him … He does not see a great deal of Michael Ashcroft anyway. But, yes, it is a fuck-up."

Cameron is hoping that this problem will simply go away and is insisting that the press are "flogging a dead horse".

He is showing a remarkable lack of judgement if he honestly can't see the principles which are at stake here.


Here is Hague in 2009 assuring Jeremy Paxman that he has "no reason to think that he (Ashcroft) has not complied to the commitments that he gave."

Paxman goes on to expose the shocking lack of curiosity the Conservatives displayed on this matter.


The more I think about this, the more impossible it is to imagine Ashcroft being able to stay in his position as Deputy Chairman of the Tories. Cameron is making much about the new transparency which the Conservatives will bring to politics and, if Hague is telling the truth in this interview with Paxman, and I have no reason to believe that he is not, then it is quite clear that Ashcroft allowed Hague to believe that he was in compliance with the commitments he gave, when he (Ashcroft) knew fine well he was not.

Ashcroft has allowed Hague to believe this for the best part of ten years. And to go on TV arguing that he believed this. And yet, at no point did Ashcroft feel the need to give Hague a call and straighten this all out?

The Tories look as if they weren't asking the question because they didn't want to know the answer.

This makes Cameron look weak. And the Tories appear more interested in getting their hands on Ashcroft's millions than asking him if he had complied with the assurances that the then leader of the Conservatives gave to enable him to receive his life peerage.

When the leader of a political party gives assurances, it is right that we take them at their word. In this instance that word has been deliberately misconstrued by Ashcroft for financial gain.

And Cameron doesn't seem remotely bothered that the position he currently holds - and the assurances given by a former holder of that position - was treated with so little respect by Ashcroft.

He's played them all for fools, and they are too busy trying to get their hands on his lucre to even get angry about it.


Stephen Tall over at Liberal Democratic Voice makes a great point about how the Tories are puzzled that the rest of us find this a big deal:

The over-riding impression I get from this Ashcroft episode (and I’ve talked to a handful of senior Tories about it) is bafflement that it’s an issue at all. Most Tories seem to see nothing wrong in Lord Ashcroft minimising his tax bill through whatever legal means available, and nothing wrong with him occupying a seat in the House of Lords while doing so. The idea of fairness – that those who legislate how much the rest of us should get taxed, and how that money should be spent, should pay the same tax as the rest of us – is seen as the pedantry of liberal-leftys.

If there’s one thing bound to unite Lib Dem, Labour and floating voters, it’s irritation with the sense of entitlement too many Tories exude, and which Lord Ashcroft’s tax affairs exemplify.

Quite how they have convinced themselves of this, at a time when the nation is up in arms about the expenses scandal simply baffles me.


Here is what Cameron has previously said on the subject of non-doms:
"I think it time to pass a law that says that if you want to be in the Houses of Parliament, if you want to be a legislator, you need to be or be treated as a full UK taxpayer."

"There are members of the House of Lords whose tax status is unclear. If you want to sit in the House of Lords or Commons you have to be a fully resident UK taxpayer.

"We would pass that law if we get elected. We would pass it straight away, we would bring it into force as rapidly as we could. I think that would put the situation beyond doubt."

And here's what he said about Ashcroft specifically:
2 December 2007 "I am satisfied that the undertakings [Lord Ashcroft] gave are being met and I've reassurances.....that he is resident in the UK and pays taxes in the UK."

5 February 2008 "[Lord Ashcroft] gave assurances, I've sought assurances about them. I've been given them and I'm happy to leave it at that."
It really does appear untenable that the present situation can continue.

Click here for full article.

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