Why is Rishi Sunak facing a probe from the ethics watchdog?

Why is Rishi Sunak facing a probe from the ethics watchdog?
Rishi Sunak faces probe over budget ‘benefit’ to wife’s childcare agency

It’s been just over a year since The Independent revealed the wife of Rishi Sunak, Akshata Murthy, avoided tax through the controversial ‘non-dom’ tax status – and now another family matter risks landing him in trouble with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The independent commissioner, who is separate to the Committee on Standards investigating Boris Johnson’s comments on Partygate, opened the investigation into Mr Sunak on Thursday, with news of the inquiry being announced on Monday.

So what’s the problem?

The specific issue concerns paragraph six of the new Code of Conduct for MPs.

The code, which came into effect last month, states: “Members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders”.

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An investigation into this part of the Code therefore means the commissioner is looking into whether Mr Sunak did not correctly declare a conflict of interest.

What’s the conflict of interest Mr Sunak is alleged to not have declared?

It relates to the budget unveiled last month by Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he announced an expansion of free childcare to be fully introduced by 2025, which he says will be worth £6,500 a year on average for working families.

It’s certainly a “life-changing” policy, according to parents, but Ms Murthy just so happens to partly own a childcare agency herself, and stands to benefit from changes announced by Mr Hunt.

In particular, Koru Kids is one of six private agencies being consulted on a pilot scheme announced in the Budget.

The Liaison Committee

This gets even trickier when Mr Sunak was asked about any conflicts of interest which may arise from the budget last month, when he was quizzed by the Liaison Committee made up of select committee chairs.

Labour MP and Petitions Committee chair Catherine McKinnell posed the question, to which Mr Sunak replied: “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.”

Earlier this month, the PM penned a letter to the Liaison Committee further addressing the issue and “some media coverage” surrounding his wife’s “minority stake” in an agency known as Koru Kids.

“I would like to clarify for the parliamentary record that this interest has rightly been declared to the Cabinet Office,” he said.

However, the latest list of ministers’ interests published in May last year sees Mr Sunak declare his wife “owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd.” – and that’s it.

Responding to the announcement of the commissioner’s investigation, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “We are happy to assist the commissioner to clarify how this has been transparently declared as a ministerial interest.”

The wider political and online reaction

Once the news was broken about the commissioner’s investigation, Twitter obviously had something to say:

And it really hasn’t been the best couple of days for Mr Sunak, after an image went viral yesterday in which the Conservative leader was pictured posing in front of a pub where the sign ‘crooked’ could be seen above him.


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