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Rayner property row a ‘storm in a teacup,’ McMahon suggests

Pa
Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

LONDON: A shadow minister has dismissed allegations about Angela Rayner’s previous living arrangements as a “storm in a teacup” and rejected suggestions of “double standards” over her tax affairs amid a police investigation.

Jim McMahon bolstered Labour’s defence of the deputy leader on Saturday after Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly suggested she may have given false information about her main residence.

He said it was unfair to compare Ms Rayner’s situation to the pandemic-era scandal involving former prime minister Boris Johnson, whom she called on to resign while Scotland Yard probed claims of Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street.

Ms Rayner has said she will “do the right thing and step down” if she is found to have committed a crime in relation to her living situation a decade ago but remains confident she has followed the law at all times.

But the Tories have accused her of “double standards” as she remains in post after Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed it would investigate claims that she may have broken electoral law.

Appearing on Saturday’s morning broadcast round, Mr McMahon said said “we can’t compare the two situations at all” when asked about parallels being drawn between Ms Rayner’s position and Mr Johnson’s.

“What is frankly quite a minor matter before somebody even became an MP is quite different than the Prime Minister of the country, who’s told the country to observe the rules during a global pandemic, where people were dying in vast numbers every single day, where the photo evidence was there, where witness testimony was there, where he misled parliament,” the shadow local government minister told Sky News. “That is not a comparable situation whatsoever. And so we need to be clear about that.”

Speaking to GB News, he said: “I think a lot of people will see this as a storm in a teacup.”

Ms Rayner has faced scrutiny about whether she paid the right amount of tax on the 2015 sale of her Stockport council house because of confusion over whether it was her principal residence.

She has rejected suggestions in a unauthorised biography by former Tory deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft that she failed to properly declare her main home after buying the property with a 25 per cent discount under the right-to-buy scheme in 2007.

The former carer is said to have made a £48,500 profit when selling the house eight years later. Government guidance says that a tenant can apply to buy their council home through the right-to-buy scheme if it is their “only or main home”.

Mr Daly is understood to have informed police of neighbours allegedly contradicting Ms Rayner’s statement that her property on Vicarage Road, Stockport, was her main home and not her husband’s separate address, as some have claimed.

GMP had previously said it would not be investigating the allegations, but following the Bury North MP’s complaint, the force confirmed it had reassessed information and launched a probe.

Ms Rayner’s husband was listed at another address in Lowndes Lane, about a mile away, which had also been bought under the right-to-buy scheme. She has denied the accusations and described them as a political smear by the Tories during an election year in which the ruling party is languishing behind Labour in the polls.

Asked about pressure on the deputy leader to publish tax advice which she says shows she followed the rules, Mr McMahon said: “My personal view is that we are talking about in this situation matter was before somebody became a Member of Parliament, let alone before somebody becomes potentially the Deputy Prime Minister of the country.” He added: “You don’t get many Conservative MPs, in fact, I can’t think of anyone who welcome a police investigation because we want to draw a line under it and move on we don’t get many Tory MPs who say if there is wrongdoing found, then they will take the appropriate action and to step aside, you don’t hear Conservatives saying that, and that’s why this is chalk and cheese.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has welcomed the police investigation into Ms Rayner’s living arrangements and said he had “full confidence” that she had not broken the rules.

But Defence Secretary Grant Shapps accused her of “double standards” and insisted it was “not acceptable to ignore it”. He told reporters: “I think the double standards have been extraordinary, Angela Rayner herself has spent her political career calling people out for exactly the thing she seems to be doing now. “It’s not acceptable to ignore it and it’s not acceptable for Keir Starmer to say he won’t even read reports into it.”