Politics: PM rejects Hague line on Robinson

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister yesterday brushed aside a charge by William Hague that Geoffrey Robinson, the Paymaster General, had broken the ministerial code of conduct by involving himself in discussion about offshore tax avoidance.

"Isn't it time he did the honourable thing and resigned?" the Opposition leader asked during Prime Minister's question time.

"No, is the answer to that," Tony Blair replied. "There is a clear ministerial code. He has followed that ministerial code. I think that it is good that we have people who are highly-successful business people, who come and work for the Government. He is doing an excellent job there for the country without even taking a ministerial salary."

Mr Blair steadfastly stood by that line throughout a series of subsequent exchanges with Mr Hague and a succession of Tory backbenchers who all pursued Mr Robinson in a clearly co-ordinated line of attack.

The exchanges concluded with Mr Blair effectively saying that as his friend and colleague had done no wrong, he was not prepared to allow him to be hounded out of office. "I personally think it would be very unfortunate if people who are successful in business are put off or discouraged from joining a government and working in the public interest," he said.

The central issue for Mr Hague was the conflict of interest exposed in The Independent on Tuesday, when Treasury officials confirmed that Mr Robinson had been engaged in Treasury policy work on tax avoidance schemes, albeit to his own financial detriment.