Keir Starmer links Zahawi controversy to Sunak family’s taxes at PMQs | PMQs

Rishi Sunak faced the impact of Nadhim Zahawi’s political woes first-hand at prime minister’s questions, as both Keir Starmer and the Scottish National party directly linked questions about the Conservative party chair’s finances to the prime minister’s own family tax situation.

Sunak told the Commons he had not known about Zahawi’s multimillion-pound tax settlement with the HMRC until after the previous week’s PMQs, at which he said his cabinet colleague had “addressed the matter in full”.

Referring to the formerly non-domiciled tax status of Sunak’s hugely wealthy wife, Starmer replied: “We all know why the prime minister was reluctant to ask his party chair questions about family finances and tax avoidance.”

In his questions to Sunak after Starmer, Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, mocked the PM over his family’s taxes, about Zahawi’s offshore interests and the allegation that Richard Sharp helped secure Boris Johnson a significant personal loan before being appointed BBC chair.

“What advice would he have for individuals seeking to protect their personal finances?” Flynn asked Sunak. “Should they seek out a future chair of the BBC to help secure an £800,000 loan? Should they set up a trust in Gibraltar and hope that HMRC simply don’t notice? Or should they do as others have done, and simply apply for non-dom status?”

After Sunak replied with an unconnected answer about support for energy bills, Flynn said: “I’m not sure what question the prime minister thought I asked, but that certainly was not it.”

In his questions, Starmer began by lambasting Sunak over what he said was structural underfunding of the probation service, linking this to failings that left a violent, women-hating racist free to murder the law graduate Zara Aleena.

Switching later to focus on Zahawi, the Labour leader asked: “Does the prime minister agree that any politician who seeks to avoid the taxes they owe in this country is not fit to be in charge of taxpayer money?”

Zahawi’s settlement with the tax department “occurred before I was prime minister”, Sunak began, prompting Labour jeers. He went on: “The usual appointments process was followed. No issues were raised with me when he was appointed to his current role.

“Since I commented on this matter last week, more information has come forward. That is why I have asked the independent adviser to look into the matter. Now, I obviously can’t prejudge the outcome of that, but it is right that we fully investigate this matter and establish all the facts.”

Starmer replied: “For some reason the prime minister can’t bring himself to say that or even acknowledge the question.”

Asked again about what he knew, Sunak said: “The politically expedient thing to do would be for me to have said that this matter must be resolved by Wednesday at noon – but I believe in proper due process.”

In a withering final question, Starmer said: “His failure to sack him when the whole country can see what’s going on shows how hopelessly weak he is.

“He can’t say when ambulances will get to heart attack victims again. He can’t say when the prison system will keep streets safe again. He can’t even deal with tax avoiders in his own cabinet. Is he starting to wonder if this job is just too big for him?”

Sunak, seeking to contrast his resignation as chancellor under Johnson with Starmer’s service as a shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn, replied: “The difference between him and me is that I stand by my values and my principles even when it is difficult.

“He has no principles – just petty politics.”

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