Ashcroft tax saga continues

By Peter Wozniak

Michael Ashcroft reportedly transferred millions of pounds into a trust fund just one day before new tax rules would have seen him pay a hefty inheritance tax bill.

The Conservative party deputy chairman, due to step down from his political role, allegedly moved his £17 million stake in the Impellam Group, his main UK business interest, into trust on April 5th this year.

On April 6th a law came into effect that forced all members of the House of Lords to pay UK tax on their worldwide income.

According to an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme, Lord Ashcroft, in doing so, avoided inheritance tax at a rate of 20%.

The news will be greeted with despair from the Conservatives, who had hoped the saga about their outgoing deputy chairman had finally, after ten years, blown over.

Lord Ashcroft’s tax status became a constant source of embarrassment to the Tories after he promised then-leader William Hague in 2000 that he would become a full UK-taxpayer on his elevation to the Lords and then appeared to renege on that promise.

As Conservative deputy chairman, he effectively devised much of the party’s strategy in attempting to win marginal seats and provided a significant amount of funding for the campaign.

Since the election, he has criticised the Conservatives’ strategy, in particular David Cameron’s central theme of the “Big Society”.

During an interview on election night with Andrew Neill, Lord Ashcroft stated he was becoming a UK resident for tax purposes.

The news again brings the question of his tax affairs into public light, where the Conservatives had hoped to consign it to the media ether.

There is no suggestion that Lord Ashcroft has broken the law, but given the coalition’s breast-beating about cracking down on tax avoiders, particularly by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, the news is unlikely to be well-received in government circles.

Labour were quick to point out the discrepancy, with Chris Bryant commenting: “These claims highlight yet again the serious unanswered questions around Lord Ashcroft’s tax status.

There are serious questions that need to be answered here, such as did the Tory party ensure that this story remained untold until after the General Election?

This sounds like exactly the kind of behaviour that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury last week described as ‘morally indefensible’.”