There are no plans to force ministers to publish their tax returns, even after the scandal which saw Nadhim Zahawi sacked from the cabinet over a dispute with tax authorities.
Despite saying he would publish his tax return during the Conservative leadership contest last year, Rishi Sunak is yet to do so, with a minister saying only that he will “in due course”.
The Green Party has called for all cabinet ministers to publish their tax returns as a matter of course, and last month Keir Starmer said if elected Labour’s prime minister, chancellor and deputy prime minister would all make their tax affairs public.
‘No plans’ for ministers to publish tax returns
Labour MP for Warrington North Charlotte Nichols tabled a written question to the Cabinet Office asking whether “the Prime Minister will amend the ministerial code to require all new Ministers to publish their tax returns”.
In a written response published earlier this week, paymaster general Jeremy Quin said there are “no plans for any further updates” to the Ministerial Code to compel ministers to publish their tax returns.
He said: “In submitting their ministerial interest form ministers are asked to declare their relevant interests in a number of categories. One such area on which information is required is ministers’ tax affairs. The Prime Minister has recently re-affirmed the importance of ensuring this duty is undertaken conscientiously.”
He added: “However, as has been the case under successive administrations, it is not the intention of the government to require all ministers to publish their tax returns. In public life, a balance must be struck between reasonable expectations of privacy and accountability. This reflects that Parliament has previously legislated to maintain the principle of taxpayer confidentiality.”
The tax affairs of government ministers have been brought under heightened scrutiny following Nadhim Zahawi’s sacking following a dispute with HMRC. Zahawi paid a penalty to resolve a multimillion-pound tax dispute while he was Chancellor, prompting an investigation by the PM’s ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus.
Sir Laurie concluded that Zahawi “has shown insufficient regard for the general principles of the Ministerial Code” and that he has not fulfilled the requirements of being an “honest, open and an exemplary leader”. He also wrote: “Mr Zahawi’s conduct as a minister has fallen below the high standards that, as prime minister, you rightly expect from those who serve in your government”.
Sunak to publish tax return ‘in due course’
Quin also restated Sunak’s commitment to publish his own tax return. During the initial leadership campaign in the summer, which Sunak lost to Liz Truss, the PM said he would be happy to publish details of his own tax affairs.
Sunak was put under pressure regarding his personal finances after it emerged that his wife Akshata Murty, had non-dom status and was not paying UK tax. She later agreed to pay tax on all worldwide income in the future.
The Guardian reported in November that Sunak said he hoped to publish his tax return by Christmas, in keeping with the pledge made during the leadership campaign.
Speaking to reporters at the G20 summit in Bali at the time, Sunak confirmed he would stand by the pledge. Asked whether he was willing to publish his tax return in full, Sunak said: “Yes, of course.”
“That is the established precedent and I’d be very happy to follow the precedent,” he said. “In terms of timing, I will have to speak to the Cabinet Office and figure out the right way that happens. But I have no problem doing that.”
Asked whether this would happen within his first year in office, Sunak said: “Yes, of course. I have to talk to the Cabinet Office to check on the precedent for how those things happen, but I have absolutely no trouble doing it.”