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Zahawi tax revelations add to ‘stench of sleaze’ around Tories, says Labour – UK politics live | UK news

Labour says Zahawi tax revelations add to ‘stench of sleaze’ around Tories and challenges Sunak to say what he knew

Labour is escalating its attack on the government over Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs. Anneliese Dodds, the party chair, challenged Rishi Sunak to say what he knew about Zahawi, the Tory chair, reaching a settlement with HM Revenue and Customs. And she said the public were fed up with the “stench of sleaze” surrounding the Tories.

She told Sky News:

If Nadhim Zahawi is not being clear, either to HMRC or to the British public, then he has no place in government.

And of course Rishi Sunak promised, on the steps of No 10, honesty, integrity and accountability. So Sunak has to come clean on what he knew about this affair.

The British public are fed up now of this stench of sleaze around this Conservative government.

Dodds was referring to how Sunak said, in his speech outside No 10 on the day he became prime minister: “This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

Anneliese Dodds
Anneliese Dodds. Photograph: Sky News

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Labour writes to HMRC asking for clarification of Zahawi’s tax arrangements

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, says she has written to HM Revenue and Customs asking for details of the settlement it agreed with Nadhim Zahawi.

She posted this on Twitter this morning.

It’s manifestly in the public interest to explain the nature of this payment and whether Nadhim Zahawi has admitted fault or incurred financial penalty as part of a tax settlement.

I’ve written to HMRC.👇🏻

— Angela Rayner 🌹 (@AngelaRayner) January 20, 2023

As the Telegraph reports, Rayner said:

It is manifestly in the public interest for HMRC to explain the nature of this payment and whether the man who just months ago was in charge of the nation’s finances and HMRC itself has admitted fault or incurred financial penalties as part of his settlement.

Ordinary British taxpayers would incur financial penalties if they had displayed a lack of reasonable care that deprived the public purse of significant revenue, and urgent clarity is needed in this case if the growing suspicion of double standards or preferential treatment is to be avoided.

Rayner followed up with this tweet, after we published Anna Isaac’s story saying the settlement included a penalty.

At Davos yesterday Keir Starmer said that a Labour government would be opposed to new investment or the opening of new oil or gas fields in the North Sea. Taking part in a panel discussion, he said:

What we’ve said about oil and gas is: there does need to be a transition.

Obviously, it will play its part during that transition, but not new investment, not new fields up in the North Sea, because we need to go towards net-zero, we need to ensure that renewable energy is where we go next.

His comment has been criticised by the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce which said that Starmer and his shadow ministers should visit Aberdeen to get a better understanding of the industry. Ryan Crighton, policy manager at the chamber, said:

[Starmer’s] support for renewables is welcome, but like the SNP last week, the position set out by Sir Keir suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the energy transition, and the requirement for oil and gas to both bridge and fund it.

The energy transition is going to take 25 years or more and there is quite clearly a sustained period of time where oil and gas will remain a crucial part of our energy mix.

But Greenpeace UK welcomed what Starmer said. Ami McCarthy, a Greenpeace political campaigner, said:

Over the last year, as both the climate impacts and the profiteering of the gas giants have become unignorable, public support for climate action has risen. The most important climate action any country can take is to leave oil and gas behind by boosting home insulation and transitioning to renewables as quickly as possible. Labour’s latest announcement shows they understand this.

Going into the next election, it’s becoming increasingly clear that if any party wants to get ahead, now is the time to set out their vision for delivering the green economy of the future that the UK desperately needs.

Any UK party still putting their trust in oil and gas lobbyists rather than scientists is going to look naive at best, and very isolated in a world economy racing towards net zero.

(In my opening post I said Starmer was due to take part in another panel event at Davos today. That was based on an error in a schedule. Sorry.)

The UK is to join international allies in considering plans for a new tribunal to deal with alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, has said.

The international criminal court is already investigating alleged war crimes committed in the conflict but it does not have jurisdiction over the “crime of aggression”.

Ukraine wants to ensure the “crime of aggression” – the decision to go to war, taken by political leaders without UN justification – is investigated, and it has proposed a “hybrid” tribunal to address this – a specialist court within Ukraine’s legal system, but incorporating international elements.

The Foreign Office says Britain will work with other countries invited by Ukraine to consider how this proposal could be implemented.

In a statement, Cleverly said:

The atrocities we’ve witnessed in Ukraine are diabolical – thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, and millions more displaced, forced to flee for their lives in the most horrific circumstances. These atrocities must not go unpunished.

That’s why the UK has accepted Ukraine’s invitation to join this coalition, bringing our legal expertise to the table to explore options to ensure Russia’s leaders are held to account fully for their actions.

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Tariq Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister, said the government would “reflect” on proposals Peter Hain made this morning to turn Northern Ireland from an EU “rule taker” to a “rule maker” post-Brexit. (See 12.24pm.)

Speaking at the end of the debate in the House of Lords where Lord Hain made his proposal, Lord Ahmad said:

The government has long held that the protocol is leading to a democratic deficit where the EU law applies in Northern Ireland but with little meaningful consultation on that EU law.

Hain suggested Sinn Féin, DUP and other party representatives should be given powers already given to Norway to scrutinise and achieve amendments in EU laws that will affect their country.

Ahmad said representatives of the Northern Ireland parties already attended meetings of the UK-EU joint consultative working group which discusses EU law coming down the tracks once a month but “there are always things to improve”.

Freeport dredging on Teesside ‘very unlikely’ to be cause of mass crab die-off, report says

Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary, has said that a new inquiry into the deaths of thousands of crabs and lobsters along the north-east coast had found it was “very unlikely” to be linked to the dredging of the River Tees.

In a written ministerial statement, she said the “independent expert assessment of unusual crustacean mortality in the north-east of England in 2021 and 2022” concluded that a novel pathogen was to blame.

The inquiry was set up in response to claims that the mass die-off was caused by the dredging releasing a toxic chemical called pyridine, which was used in industry on Teesside and was found in high levels in the dead crabs.

But Coffey said in her statement:

The independent panel concluded that pyridine or another toxic pollutant as the cause was very unlikely, as was any link to dredging for the freeport.

A novel pathogen is considered by the independent panel to be the most likely cause of mortality because it could explain the key observations, including mortality, over a sustained period and along over 40 miles of coastline, the unusual twitching of dying crabs and the deaths being predominantly crabs rather than other species.

The dredging has intensified as part of the work to create the Teesside freeport, and a finding that pyridine was to blame would have had serious repurcussions not just for the Teesside freeport, but potentially for others too.

The full report is here.

Nadhim Zahawi ‘agreed on penalty’ to settle tax bill worth millions

The Conservative party chair, Nadhim Zahawi, agreed to pay a penalty to HMRC as part of a seven-figure settlement over his tax affairs, my colleague Anna Isaac reports. Her full story is here.

Labour peer suggests Sinn Féin and DUP should be involved in talks on new EU laws as part of solution to protocol row

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Peter Hain, the Labour former Northern Ireland secretary, has called for an official Norway-style involvement for Sinn Féin and the DUP in EU laws that apply in Belfast in an attempt to end the “democratic deficit” caused by Brexit.

He says political leaders should be made “ex officio” of the UK delegations on UK-EU bodies that discuss matters not just relevant to the protocol but also to devolved competence.

In a speech in the House of Lords this morning, where peers held a debate on the Northern Ireland protocol, Hain said Norway, which is not a member of the EU but is in the single market, has the formal capacity to “scrutinise and achieve amendments to all draft EU proposals affecting Norwegians”. He went on:

Boris Johnson and Lord Frost, endorsed by Rishi Sunak, negotiated a deal making Northern Ireland an EU rule-taker rather than, as the UK was before Brexit, an EU rule-maker.

This issue is one of the three red lines of the European Research Group, the hardline, pro-Brexit Tory caucus which is powerful within the Conservative party and wants to end the application of EU law in Northern Ireland.

Hain told peers that Norway reports its system is “working well” and a similar one in the UK could be set up through the UK-EU joint consultative working group.

It meets monthly and is where the European Commission informs the UK about “planned union acts within the scope of the protocol under article 15”.

Hain said the UK government “should establish formal structures” to ensure the view of Northern Ireland ministers, members of the legislative assembly, officials and stakeholders are represented. He went on:

These are practical, common sense solutions to a real problem which quite understandably exercises unionists, and I hope that UK ministers, the Irish government and the EU will support them.

Peter Hain.
Peter Hain. Photograph: Parliament TV

No 10 declines to criticise police for ‘looking into’ Sunak not wearing seatbelt – but says they’ve not been in touch yet

The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished, and – unsurprisingly – the first questions were about whether there are any updates on seatbelt-gate.

As my colleague Kevin Rawlinson reports, Lancashire police have said they are “looking into” Sunak’s failure to wear a seatbelt when he was filming an Instagram video about levelling up from the back seat of his ministerial car.

And there aren’t any real updates, the No 10 spokesperson revealed. He said that he was “not going to get ahead of any process” and that as far as he was aware Sunak has not yet had any contact from Lancashire police.

The spokesperson also repeated the apology from Sunak for the incident, issued yesterday.

Asked if Sunak would be willing to speak to the police about this, the spokeperson just repeated the line about not getting ahead of the process.

Asked if Sunak agreed with the Tory MP Scott Benton that this was a waste of police time, the spokesperson said it was “entirely a matter for the police where they allocate resources”.

.@LancsPolice do an amazing job, but I’m sure their time is better spent investigating serious crime which impacts on my constituents. The vast majority of people would think that politically motivated complaints about about a seat belt are not good use of frontline resources.

— Scott Benton MP 🇬🇧🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 🍊 (@ScottBentonMP) January 20, 2023

Here is the clip of the prime minister without his seatbelt on:

Rishi Sunak uploads video to Instagram sitting in moving car without seatbelt – video

Keir Starmer has held a meeting with Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach (Irish PM), at Davos this morning. According to a readout of the meeting from the Labour party, Starmer and Varadkar “discussed the importance of strengthening British-Irish relations, their mutual commitment to that enduring relationship, and talked about areas both countries could work together on in the future”.

They also talked about the need “to proceed at pace in finding agreement over the Northern Ireland protocol”, Labour said.

Rosie Duffield MP says being ‘ostracised’ by Labour over gender-critical views reminds her of being in ‘abusive relationship’

The Labour MP Rosie Duffield has described belonging to the party as like being in an “abusive relationship” because her gender-critical views have made her feel “ostracised”.

In an article for UnHerd, she also suggests that she will find it hard to support the party at the next election – suggesting she might not stand again as a candidate.

Duffield achieved a surprise win in 2017 when she was elected as the MP for Canterbury, a seat which had mostly elected Tories for almost 200 years. At the 2019 election she increased her majority from 187 to 1,836.

But in her UnHerd article she describes how she has gone from being seen as an asset to the party to a liability because of her outspoken gender-critical views. Her concern about trans women being able to access single-sex spaces has led to her being labelled transphobic, although that is not a description she accepts.

She claims she has been “ostracised for voicing not only my own opinions but those of thousands of others who are starting to question the party they have dedicated so much of their lives to”. And she claims other Labour MPs agree with what she thinks but are afraid to speak out.

I know I’m not the only MP in the party who thinks this – I’m just the only one who feels I have nothing to lose by speaking out. After all, there’s no frontbench job offer for the only Labour MP in my county. Many of us know that self-identifying as a woman does not make a person a biological woman who shares our lived experience. But for obvious reasons, these views are not voiced outside of closed rooms or private and secret WhatsApp groups. Even there, the most senior MPs often do not post a single word; they know exactly what’s at stake and not many of them want to be me. So for now, they mostly remain silent.

Duffied has spoken about her experience in the past of being in an abusive relationship and she says the lack of support she gets from the party on women’s rights reminds her of this.

One of the traits of being in an abusive relationship is “stonewalling”. The abuser will go quiet for days on end. They will stew, not speak to you, turn their back on you. Trust me when I say I don’t take this lightly: but what I feel now, after six years of being cold-shouldered by the Labour party, conjures memories of how I felt in that abusive relationship. When I come home at night, I feel low-level trauma at my political isolation.

Referring to the next election, she says:

In 2019, it was hard enough trying to convince my constituents that Labour wasn’t antisemitic. In the next election, when they inevitably ask whether Labour is sexist, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the same.

Rosie Duffield speaking in the Commons on Tuesday during the ministerial statement on Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill.
Rosie Duffield speaking in the Commons on Tuesday during the ministerial statement on Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill. Photograph: Uk parliament/Reuters

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland secretary is acting like a governor general

Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Scotland secretary of acting “like a governor general” in a further escalation of hostilities between the Westminster and Holyrood governments, my colleague Libby Brooks reports.

Back to levelling up, and last night George Mann from the BBC posted several regional newspaper front pages on Twitter to show their response to the levelling up funding awards announced yesterday. Some of the coverage is very negative.

This is from the Yorkshire Post.

This is from the Bradford Telegraph and Argus.

This is from the Journal in Newcastle.

This is from the Bolton News.

But the Lancashire Telegraph is positive.

Leo Varadkar admits regrets over Northern Ireland protocol

Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said he regrets that the Northern Ireland protocol he agreed with Boris Johnson to end a Brexit impasse was signed without the agreement of unionists and nationalists, my colleagues Matthew Weaver and Lisa O’Carroll report.

Teaching unions to hold six hours of talks with officials in attempt to avert strikes

Education unions are meeting government officials for a marathon six-hour round of talks in an attempt to avert teacher walkouts in the coming weeks, PA Media reports. PA says:

Friday’s meeting comes after union leaders said there had been “no progress” after discussions with the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, on Wednesday.

The National Education Union (NEU) plans seven days of strike action in England and Wales in a dispute over pay – with the first on 1 February coinciding with walkouts by staff at universities, on the rail network and in Whitehall.

The union has said strike action could affect more than 23,000 schools.

The planned length of Friday’s meeting was described as a “step forward” by Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

The ASCL is not part of strike action, but Barton, who said he will be at the talks, said there is anger among his members over a range of issues, including education funding and problems with recruitment and retention as well as pay.

The schools minister Nick Gibb said the government understands the pressures facing teachers and is willing to negotiate, but warned against “inflation-busting pay settlements”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Officials in the department today are spending six hours with the four unions discussing the issues that we discussed on Wednesday, and the secretary of state said they could start discussing issues like pay but also other issues such as workload and the conditions of teachers in schools.

“So you know, we do understand the pressures that teachers are under.”

NHS ambulance workers announce fresh strike dates as pay row escalates

Ambulance workers have announced a series of fresh strikes including one next month that was already predicted to be the biggest day of stoppages in NHS history, my colleagues Matthew Weaver and Anna Bawden report.

Blow to levelling up as poll says there’s almost nowhere in Britain where people generally think local area getting better

Good morning. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” That is one of the most powerful questions in electoral politics, made famous when Ronald Reagan asked it in 1980 and now increasingly being used by the Labour party. It was also, in part, the inspiration behind Boris Johnson’s levelling up campaign. When Johnson won his surprise near-landslide election in 2019, taking seats in deprived areas that had voted Labour for decades, the Tories admitted that if they were going to hold these constituencies, then by the time of the next elections voters would have to be feeling that jobs were picking up, the high street was smarter, the place was getting better.

But they don’t. Last night YouGov published devastating polling for the government showing that levelling up has failed to make people feel their community is getting better and that there is almost nowhere where voters think their local area is improving.

Polls showing people unhappy about the state of the country come out almost daily nowadays. But this one is different because it involves data from more than 100,000 people between August and October last year, and it uses multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP – a data analytical technique) to produce results on a local authority-by-local authority basis. Here are the key findings.

  • Overall there is almost nowhere in Britain where people generally think their local area has improved in recent years, the poll suggests. In most council areas (215) the most common response was for people to say conditions had stayed about the same. And in 142 council areas the most common response was for people to say the area had declined.

  • There are only four council areas where people were most likely to say they felt their local areas had improved in recent years, the poll suggests. They are all in London: Hackney, Islington, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets.

  • People living in areas given top priority in the first round of awards from the levelling up fund were more likely to say their areas had got worse in recent years than people in tier two priority areas, or in areas that did not get any funding at all, the poll suggests. Round one levelling up funding was announced in autumn 2021.

The YouGov report on the figures is here. And here is the most useful chart.

Polling on whether local area has improved
Polling on whether local area has improved Photograph: YouGov

If you had to put a positive gloss on this for the Tories, you could point out that these figures are now a few months out of date. You could say they might just reflect a general despondency about the state of the country, caused by the cost of living crisis. And you could say that, where people living in places getting levelling up money are more pessimistic than average about what is happening to their area, that might just be because levelling up money is going to places that are particularly deprived.

But, still, it is hard not to read the poll as compelling evidence that, in political/electoral terms at least, levelling up is failing.

As we report in our splash today, yesterday’s announcement of the second round of levelling up awards also prompted criticism. A Guardian analysis found that Tory seats have been awarded significantly more money from the fund than areas with similar levels of deprivation.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: MPs start debating backbench bills.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

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