Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak of ‘smears’ over Angela Rayner tax row

The police have said they are considering multiple other allegations in connection with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner

Zoe Grunewald,Archie Mitchell
Wednesday 17 April 2024 17:59 BST
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has denied any wrongdoing over the row about her previous living arrangements (PA)

Sir Keir Starmer mounted his strongest defence of Angela Rayner on Wednesday, accusing “billionaire” Rishi Sunak of “smearing a working-class woman” amid a row about her former living arrangements.

As the police confirmed they are investigating multiple allegations about Ms Rayner’s former council house, the Labour leader accused the PM himself of having used “schemes to avoid millions of pounds in tax”.

Confronting Mr Sunak at Prime Minister's Questions, Sir Keir said: “We’ve got a billionaire prime minister and a billionaire colleague [Lord Ashcroft] both of whose families have used schemes to avoid millions of pounds in tax smearing a working-class woman.”

The PM had urged Sir Keir to spend less time reading Liz Truss’s new book and more looking into his deputy’s tax advice.

Keir Starmer accused the ‘billionaire’ PM of ‘smearing a working-class woman’ as the pair clashed in the Commons (Parliament TV)

The exchange came as a former Tory minister joined high-profile figures defending Ms Rayner in the deepening row over the sale of her former council home.

Amid ongoing questions about whether she avoided paying the right tax or had correctly registered at the correct address, Nick Boles, who was an MP for nine years, said the attacks were “one of the most grotesque spectacles of hypocrisy I have ever witnessed”.

Former Conservative MP Matthew Parris also condemned what he called “the hounding” of the Labour MP, dubbing it “outrageous: brutal, snobbish and completely out of proportion to any mistake she may (or may not) have made”.

Former regional chief crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal also said that “based on what’s in the public domain”, the CPS would take no action against Ms Rayner.

Their comments come as Stephen Watson, chief constable with the Greater Manchester Police (GMP), suggested there were multiple allegations which may extend beyond her housing arrangements.

The force had previously announced they were investigating the Labour deputy leader over the sale of her council house in Stockport and whether she broke electoral law by giving false information about her address during the 2010s.

During an appearance on BBC Radio Manchester, Mr Watson said: “All I would say in line with what we’ve put out publicly is there are a number of assertions knocking about, I don’t need to tell people that.

Police chief Stephen Watson told the BBC ‘we are going to get to the bottom of what has happened’ with Rayner (PA)

“We, on an initial assessment, made a determination that it was unlikely we would pursue an investigation. On the provision of further investigation or further information, we have reassessed that decision and we have announced we will launch a formal investigation.”

He added: “That is a neutral act, it does not imply that information gives us any hard or fast evidence on which to base anything at this stage. It is simply that we have an allegation, these allegations are all over the news, we are going to get to the bottom of what has happened.”

It comes as The Times reports that police are investigating “tax matters and other issues” in connection with her housing affairs. A source told the newspaper: “It’s very well-resourced, it’s not a single issue. There is a volume of material and a clear public interest to fully investigate.”

The Times reports that the authorities are considering a number of questions about Ms Rayner’s affairs, including whether she broke electoral law, whether she paid the correct amount of capital gains tax when she sold her property, and what the council tax arrangements were at Vicarage Road.

The investigation into Ms Rayner was launched after Conservative MP and deputy party chair James Daly complained to police after the GMP previously said it would not be investigating the allegations. Mr Daly said he had been made aware of neighbours contradicting Ms Rayner’s statement that her property, separate from her husband’s, was her main residence.

The shadow levelling up secretary has promised to resign if she is found to have committed a crime but has stated that she is confident that she has done nothing wrong.

Rayner continued with her public duties with a visit to Woodgate in West Sussex on Tuesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Labour Party said it remains confident Ms Rayner has complied with the rules, and the Ashton-under-Lyne MP “welcomes the chance to set out the facts with the police”.

Sir Keir has previously welcomed the police investigation into Ms Rayner’s council house sale and said it will allow a “line to be drawn” on the issue.

Keir Starmer said he is ‘fully confident’ in Rayner (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

A number of legal experts have pointed out that even if Ms Rayner were found to have provided false information, it is unlikely any further action would be taken.

Scott Wortley, a law lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, says that any potential prosecution should have been launched within a year of the suspected crime.

Providing false information is an offence under Section 13D of the Representation of the People Act 1983, but the legislation imposes a time limit of a year for bringing any charge. As the allegations surrounding Ms Rayner relate to before 2015, this suggests it is unlikely that she could be prosecuted.

Magistrates may extend that deadline in certain circumstances, but only by another year, according to the act.

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