Ashcroft row forces Hague on to defensive

By Alex Stevenson

William Hague struggled to brush off repeated attacks from Harriet Harman about Tory donor Michael Ashcroft’s tax status in a rowdy PMQs today.

The shadow foreign secretary has been embarrassed by letters published by the Guardian newspaper showing that he promised to ensure Lord Ashcroft would become resident in Britain for tax purposes.

On Monday Lord Ashcroft ended years of uncertainty by confirming he is a non-domicile, meaning he does not pay income tax on money earned outside Britain.

PMQs sketch: Harman becomes the opposition

Deputising for Gordon Brown, Ms Harman got a huge cheer from massed Labour backbenchers as soon as she mentioned “integrity”.

“This country has been misled. The question is whether they have been misled by the deputy chair of the Conservative party or [by Mr Hague],” she said.

PMQs as it happened

Mr Hague responded by commenting that “people in glass houses shouldn’t start throwing stones”, attacking the Unite union’s funding of Labour and its close links with the party.

“She may not want to recognise marriage in the tax system but she sure does in the political system,” Mr Hague added, referring to Ms Harman’s husband – Unite’s deputy general secretary Jack Dromey, who has just been selected as a Labour candidate.

The leader of the Commons sought to work every answer round to the question of Lord Ashcroft and concluded the exchanges by saying: “We cannot have it that both the vice chairman of the Conservative party is right and the shadow foreign secretary is right. One of them should go.”

Ashcroft letters prolong Tory agony

A defiant Mr Hague responded by commenting to Labour backbenchers: “It won’t save their marginal seats.” He later added: “They should enjoy themselves while they are still here.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable raised Lord Ashcroft’s donations by calling on the government to release papers relating to his case held by the Cabinet Office.

Ms Harman replied: “I would agree with him that there are answers to be given on this, but they are not answers to be given by the government.”

Dr Cable disagreed, before Ms Harman quoted from Lord Ashcroft’s autobiography in which he expressed gratitude for his peerage to Mr Hague. “I owe it all to William,” she said, quoting Lord Ashcroft.