Does Lord Ashcroft pay tax in the UK?
It’s a question that has posed a difficulty for senior Tories over the past few weeks, as they struggle to give a clear yes or no answer to journalists who, enthused by their obvious discomfort, harangue them about it at every opportunity.
And now it looks like Sir George Young, shadow leader of the House of Lords, may have inadvertently given us an answer last night on Newsnight. Young was fresh from his rather evasive appearance on Monday’s Today programme.
Discussion got heated as the presenter Emily Maitlis and the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, rounded on him, demanding a yes or no in response to the “simple question”. “He pays tax,” insisted Young.
But then came the key soundbite (you can watch a video of the whole encounter here):
He is in the same position as a number of Labour peers who are non-domiciled and who fund the Labour Party.
To all intents and purposes, it appears that in this sentence, Young is describing Ashcroft as a non-dom. However, things are not always as they seem.
The Guardian quotes a Conservative Party spokesman as saying: “Sir George doesn’t know Lord Ashcroft’s tax status. He was only making the comparison that the Labour Party face their own questions about their donors.”
It is, of course, possible that Young “misspoke”, as Tory sources say, put off his stride by the rather aggressive nature of the questioning. Senior figures in the party have consistently stuck to David Cameron’s line last December, that “Lord Ashcroft’s tax status is a matter between him and the Inland Revenue”.
One thing we can be certain of is that ten years after Ashcroft was made a life peer and gave “assurances” over his tax status, this storm shows no sign of blowing over.