Of 35 pages of documents released today, the most striking ones appear to be two letters sent on July 12, 2000.
(Bear in mind that Lord Ashcroft recently revealed he was a “long-term resident” in the UK – as opposed to “permanent” – which means he doesn’t have to pay UK tax on his overseas income. )
Letter One: Sir Hayden Phillips wrote to James Arbuthnot, Tory chief whip, saying: “Mr Ashcroft has said that he will live in the UK indefinitely and will, therefore, be a long-term resident here.”
Letter Two: In Arbuthnot’s reply he refers to: “Michael Ashcroft’s undertaking to take up permanent residence in the UK.”
This second letter is what Baroness Dean* (former Labour member of the honours scrutiny committee) referred to at the public administration select committee this morning when she said: “It looked like the commitments given were not carried through.”
Here’s my full 1,200 word news story on Ashcroft today if you want a more lengthy account.
Meanwhile Sir Hayden Phillips, the civil servant who rubber-stamped the final agreement, admitted that tax was not his strong point:
Sir Hayden, who was Clerk to the Crown in Chancery at the time, said:
“We’re all now experts on doms and non-doms, in the year 2000 if you’d asked me what the distinction was I would not have been able to give you a clear and knowledgeable answer,” he admitted.
Sir Hayden said that the final agreement was cleared both by the honours committee and the Tory leadership. “If the political honours scrutiny committee had had reservations…they would have said so to me, they did not say so,” he argued.
However, he later admitted that there may have been a “misunderstanding” about whether or not Lord Ashcroft would pay full UK taxes.
“If you’re asking was there a misunderstanding about what the words implied or what the process would be, then that may well be the case,” he said.
* Paul Waugh points out that Baroness Dean is a former official from a union which is now part of…Unite.