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Monday 1 March 2010

Smelling The Coffee In Belize

The question that senior Tories have been consistently reluctant to answer over most of the past decade has been that regarding Michael Ashcroft, purveyor of largesse to the party and supplier of exclusive air travel to its most deserving chaps. This reluctance has not served the Tories well, and the penny appears finally to have dropped, with today’s disclosure that Ashcroft is a “non-dom” for tax purposes.

So it might be thought that the proverbial line could now be drawn under the affair, except that things are not quite so straightforward: Ashcroft could have made the admission back in 2000, but did not, and in any case, his status means that he will not be paying tax on any income from outside the UK. Given Ashcroft’s involvement in Belize, it would be no surprise if he were to enjoy some kind of benefit there.

Moreover, the driver for Ashcroft’s disclosure is down to our old friend Freedom Of Information: information was to be released today regarding his “promise” on UK residency, which we now know not to be “permanent and domiciled” but “long term and non domiciled”, which for tax purposes are two very different things.

Reliable and suitably obedient Tory conduits have been in rebuttal mode this morning, trying to draw parallels with Labour donor and peer Lord Paul, who is also a Privy Councillor. But Paul has been open about his non-dom status, while Ashcroft and his pals have kept schtum, only yielding when an FoI request forced their hands. And Paul – along with the rest of Labour’s non-doms – aren’t central to their party, as Ashcroft is to the Tories (he’s a deputy chairman of the party).

And Ashcroft will have to change his domicile status if rules change to require all MPs and peers to be both UK resident and domiciled. But then, he’s had a whole decade to cover his tracks, so may not suffer unduly. After all, the poor fellow is allegedly down to his last 850 million quid.

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