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21 March 2010

Did Hague know Ashcroft was a non-dom for years not “months”?

Fresh questions arise from still-unresolved affair.

By James Macintyre

I have for a while suspected two things about the “Lord” Ashcroft affair. First, that David Cameron may have been misleading television viewers when he told Nick Robinson tetchily that when it came to outing and sorting Ashcroft’s tax status, “It was done by me — right?”

And second that William Hague may have been misleading the public when he claimed he had known about the status for a matter of “months”.

Today, the Independent on Sunday asks if in fact he knew for considerably longer than that, and reproduces this interesting exchange from this weekend’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4:

When Jonathan Dimbleby, the presenter, asked Mr Hague if he interpreted “permanent residence” — the condition originally set by the honours committee for Ashcroft to be elevated to the Lords — as meaning “he would be paying tax on all his earnings”, Mr Hague responded: “I interpreted that to mean that he would be paying taxes on his income from the United Kingdom.”

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Asked if this meant “only” UK income, Mr Hague said: “I couldn’t know, nor could anybody know, whether he was domiciled in the UK.”

Meanwhile David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, who interestingly appears more determined as the election approaches to stray on to domestic territory and to up the pressure on the Tories, raises just some of the remaining questions surrounding this murky affair:

William Hague now admits that he knew ten years ago that Lord Ashcroft was only planning to pay tax on his UK income — contrary to Hague’s own claim that Ashcroft would pay “tens of millions” in tax.

Why did Hague conceal this for ten years? When did David Cameron find out? And why did he do nothing about this when he did so?

To the Tories’ fury, this one’s not over yet.