Rishi Sunak compares ‘upsetting’ attacks on his wife to Will Smith Oscars saga

‘At least I didn’t slap anybody’, says chancellor – claiming attacks on spouse for Russia link unfair

Adam Forrest
Thursday 31 March 2022 15:22 BST
At least I didn’t slap anybody for criticising my wife, says Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak said criticism of his wife over her family company’s failure to end ties with Russia had been “upsetting” – as he compared the attacks to the Will Smith Oscars slap scandal.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newscast podcast, the chancellor said he had a difficult week and joked: “Someone said, ‘Joe Root, Will Smith, and me – not the best of weekends for any of us’.

“But I feel, on reflection, both Will Smith and me having our wives attacked – at least I didn’t get up and slap anybody, which is good,” he told Laura Kuenssberg.

Mr Sunak added: “You know, I think it’s totally fine for people to take shots at me. It’s fair game. I’m the one sitting here and that’s what I signed up for.”

The chancellor has been forced to deny his family is profiting from Vladimir Putin’s regime following reports about his wife’s financial investments.

He has come under pressure over his wife Akshata Murthy having a 0.91 per cent stake in IT and services giant Infosys – a company founded by her father which continues to operate in Russia.

He told the BBC: “Actually, it’s very upsetting and, I think, wrong for people to try and come at my wife. And you know, beyond that actually, with regard to my father-in-law, for whom I have nothing but enormous pride and admiration for everything that he’s achieved.”

The chancellor added: “No amount of attempted smearing is going to make me change that because he’s wonderful and has achieved a huge amount, as I said, I’m enormously proud of him.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats say Mr Sunak still has “serious questions” to answer over Ms Murthy’s reported £690m stake in Infosys.

And Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko has warned that companies retaining ties to Russia are helping Putin “buy the bullets that are killing Ukrainian children,” adding: “You have to live with the fact it’s bloody money.”

Mr Sunak has previously told British businesses to “think carefully” about making any investments that would benefit Mr Putin’s regime.

Asked whether Infosys – which has four offices in the UK but has reportedly kept offices in Moscow – was sending such a message, Mr Sunak told Sky News: “I have absolutely no idea because I have nothing to do with that company.”

Mr Sunak has also come under pressure to provide more information about his family’s financial interests. The ministerial code asks ministers to declare any all “relevant” interests – including those of spouses – which might give rise to a conflict.

The latest ministerial register states that Mr Sunak’s wife “owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd”, and says the chancellor’s own financial interests sit with a “blind trust/blind management arrangement”.

It comes as the investment firm part-owned by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who no longer takes part in its decisions, announced that it would end its shareholdings in Russian companies.

Somerset Capital Management said it was seeking to ditch shareholding positions in Russian firms “in an orderly manner in due course” and would not make new investments in Russia.

Meanwhile, the chancellor also admitted to the BBC that his approach to the cost of living crisis had been unpopular and “difficult for people to hear”.

Despite criticism of his spring statement from the opposition, charities and some Tory MPs, Mr Sunak said he remained “confident in what we’ve done” to support people struggling with rising bills.

In a Newscast interview due to be released later on Thursday, the chancellor said “not going to deviate” from fiscal restraint in favour of “some short-term popularity gain”.

Mr Sunak said: “I know it’s tough for people. We’re facing a very difficult situation with the price of things going up and I want to do what we can to ameliorate some of that – but I’m also honest with people that we can’t ameliorate all of it, sadly.”

He added: “That’s difficult for people to hear, and the toughest part of this job is not being able to do everything that people would like you to do. Because we’re already borrowing quite a large amount of money, and I don’t think borrowing lots more would be sensible.”

Mr Sunak admitted some of the moves he has made are “certainly unpopular”, adding: “But they’re responsible and will help us in the long-term and I’m not going to deviate from that just for some short-term popularity gain.”

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith became the latest figure to criticise the spring statement, telling LBC that Mr Sunak would need to “come back” with fresh measures on tackling the cost of living crisis. The senior Tory warned that the UK risks “1970s stagflation”.

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