Lord Fink climbs down in clash with Ed Miliband over tax avoidance

We were expecting Lord Fink to follow through with his threat to sue Ed Miliband over suggestions about his tax affairs, but he seems to have blinked first.

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We were expecting Lord Fink to follow through with his threat to sue Ed Miliband over suggestions he has "dodgy" tax affairs, but the Tory peer and former party treasurer appears to have blinked first.

The Tory donor threatened to sue the Labour leader if he repeated his comments – made during PMQs this week – suggesting there was something "dodgy" about his tax activities (although Miliband did not directly describe Fink as "dodgy"). Miliband's team was briefing this morning that he would indeed repeat his accusations and wouldn't back down in spite of Fink's threat to sue him.

Now Fink seems to have surrendered early, giving an interview to the Evening Standard saying he does not wish to sue Miliband:

The expression tax avoidance is so wide that everyone does tax avoidance at some level . . . I didn’t object to his use of the word ‘tax avoidance’. Because you are right: tax avoidance, everyone does it . . . I don’t even want to sue Ed Miliband. In my life I have been libelled a few dozen times and I have never sued anybody, even for some comments that were quite outrageous. 

If he simply uses the words ‘Lord Fink did ordinary tax avoidance’ then no, I couldn’t sue him. But if he made the statement ‘dodgy’ about my bank account, that was potentially libellous. That was the issue I took exception to. I also took exception to him saying I had questions to answer. In fact, whenever anyone has put questions to me I have answered them.

Fink also claimed that his tax planning is at the “vanilla” end of the spectrum. This climb-down takes the pressure off Miliband to re-assert what he said in the Commons, a story that threatened to overshadow his announcement today about capping primary school class sizes.

Update 12.50

Following his education speech, Ed Miliband repeated the accusations, citing some Tory donors as "dodgy", but clarifying that he was not using this word to describe Fink. He called it a "defining moment" for Cameron when the party treasurer he appointed says it normal to engage in tax avoidance.

Fink has responded by saying the Labour leader has climbed down:

Yesterday I challenged Ed Miliband to repeat the accusations he made in the Commons – that I used an HSBC bank account to avoid tax and that I was a 'dodgy donor.' He did not. This is a major climbdown by a man who is willing to smear without getting his facts straight.

However, Fink did not mention being called "dodgy" in a letter he wrote to Miliband about his PMQs comments yesterday. 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.