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Rishi Sunak now investigated on two fronts by ethics watchdog over wife’s childcare shares row

Probe into PM expanded by standards commissioner

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 24 April 2023 15:29 BST
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(AFP/Getty)

Rishi Sunak is facing an expanded investigation into his possible failure to declare the shares his wife holds in a childcare agency boosted by the Budget.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards, Daniel Greenberg, opened a probe into Mr Sunak last week under paragraph three of the code of conduct – demanding MPs are “open and frank” when declaring their interests.

The inquiry relates to the shares Mr Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, holds in Koru Kids, Downing Street officials revealed.

The standards commissioner said on Monday that the probe had been broadened to examine whether Mr Sunak had also breached the MPs’ code of conduct over disclosure of details in relation to the probe.

Mr Greenberg’s office revealed Mr Sunak was also now being investigated under paragraph 13 of the code, which says MPs “must not disclose details” of any probe.

It would appear to possibly refer to briefings from No 10 officials on behalf of Mr Sunak claiming that he had done nothing wrong when it came to declarations of the shares.

It is not clear if the standards commissioner also wants to look at the publication of the updated list of ministers’ interests – which featured a footnote explaining the family shares – as possible interference in his probe.

A much-delayed list of ministerial interests – shared on Wednesday amid the furore – contained for the first time a reference to the childcare agency Ms Murty holds shares in as a financial interest of Mr Sunak.

Mr Sunak had faced demands to “come clean” about his wife’s shares in Koru Kids last month, after being questioned by MPs over why the childcare policy favoured private firms. Appearing before the liaison committee, he did not mention Ms Murty’s shares in the firm.

A fortnight earlier, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a pilot of incentive payments for childminders joining the profession.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty (PA)

The government is testing incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession, and £1,200 if they join through an agency like the firm Ms Murty has shares in. Such firms are expected to see a major increase in business as a result of the plans.

But Mr Sunak did not detail his wife’s shares when being questioned by the liaison committee. Asked by MPs if he had any relevant interests to declare, Mr Sunak said: “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.”

The PM went on to write to the committee to say “that this interest has rightly been declared to the Cabinet Office” – but No 10 has not said exactly when he flagged his wife’s shares to the department.

No 10 responded at the time the probe was announced by saying: “We are happy to assist the commissioner to clarify how this has been transparently declared as a ministerial interest.”

Downing Street defended its approach on Monday when asked about the expanded probe – with Mr Sunak’s official spokesman saying they had only “pointed to what has been said previously” in public remarks.

Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip, has tabled an urgent question in the Commons asking the prime minister to make a statement on his interests. No 10 hasn’t said if the PM will respond in person.

Meanwhile, Mr Greenberg also opened an investigation into Scott Benton under rules prohibiting MPs from causing "significant damage to the reputation and integrity" of the Commons.

He lost the Tory whip after being secretly filmed offering to lobby ministers on behalf of gambling industry investors in exchange for financial reward.

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