Ashcroft’s tax status: Tory leadership “evasive and obfuscatory”

by Stephen Tall on February 1, 2010

Today’s Guardian reports:

The Conservative leadership is today accused of being “evasive and obfuscatory” over the tax status of Lord Ashcroft, the party’s deputy chairman and biggest donor, in a ruling by the information commissioner that sharply criticises the secrecy over where he is resident for tax purposes.

The Cabinet Office has been ordered to reveal within 35 days the nature of the undertaking Ashcroft made to become domiciled in the UK when he became a peer in 2000. … Ashcroft made a promise to become a permanent resident of the UK as a condition of his ennoblement in 2000, a year after he was rejected as a member of the Lords by the political honours scrutiny committee, a rejection he believed was partly based on his residency at the time.

The paper quotes the ruling by the commissioner, Christopher Graham, who is highly critical of the secrecy surrounding Ashcroft’s position.

Since Lord Ashcroft’s ennoblement, the question of where he lives has continued to be raised, leading to speculation that Lord Ashcroft has not satisfied the undertaking he gave. Statements by senior politicians concerning Lord Ashcroft’s undertaking have been evasive and obfuscatory and have served to compound this speculation.

“Lord Ashcroft could have ended the speculation about his residency by making a public statement to that effect. He has chosen not to do this. He has furthered the speculation by stating that it is a private matter and, as stated on his website, ‘If home is where the heart is Belize is my home’.

“In the commissioner’s view there is a legitimate interest for the public to know more about Lord Ashcroft’s undertaking. This flows from the legitimate public interest in understanding the process by which Lord Ashcroft’s peerage was awarded, knowing the details of any conditions placed upon that award and knowing whether Lord Ashcroft has met what appears to have been a condition to his award.”

Lord Ashcroft has repeatedly refused to clarify his tax status in Britain, while successive Tory leaders have dodged the question when posed by interviewers. Now the information commissioner has put them on the spot, will the media now demand genuine answers from David Cameron and William Hague instead of their customary evasion and obfuscation?