Hunt says never paid a tax penalty amid calls for Zahawi to go

Saturday, Jan 28, 2023

LONDON: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he has never paid a tax fine, as ministers’ financial affairs come under scrutiny amid growing calls from Conservatives for Nadhim Zahawi to stand down.

Mr Hunt raised suspicions by twice refusing to say whether he has paid a penalty as he took questions after an economic speech, claiming the public are not “remotely interested” in the subject.

But then he went on to tell broadcasters in an interview a short while later on Friday that “for the record I haven’t paid an HMRC fine”. He was responding to questions amid growing calls for Mr Zahawi to step aside as Conservative Party chairman while under investigation for settling a multimillion-pound tax dispute while chancellor.

Mr Zahawi has authorised HM Revenue and Customs to discuss his settlement – estimated to be worth £4.8 million and include a penalty – with the investigation ordered by Rishi Sunak.

Pressure on ministers only grew after HMRC boss Jim Harra told MPs there are “no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs”. Under questioning after a Bloomberg speech in London, Mr Hunt said: “I’m not going to talk about my personal tax affairs, but I don’t think there’s anything you’d find interesting to write about if I can put it that way.”

He declined to answer when pressed again and added: “By the way, I don’t think people at home are remotely interested in personal tax affairs, they are interested in these things,” gesturing towards the Government’s five priorities. But a little while later he dropped his opposition to answering the question.

“I don’t normally comment about my own tax records, but I am Chancellor so for the record I haven’t paid an HMRC fine,” he told broadcasters.

Similar confusion occurred on Wednesday after Downing Street initially refused to say whether Rishi Sunak had paid a penalty, saying his tax affairs are “confidential”. Hours later, No 10 released a statement saying: “The Prime Minister has never paid a penalty to HMRC.”